ASUS partners with Crohn’s & Colitis Canada for virtual conference

Committee co-chair discusses the nature of an ‘invisible illness’

ASUS Crohn’s and Colitis Committee hosted a virtual conference on March 20.
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ASUS’s Crohn’s and Colitis Committee hosted a Zoom conference about navigating university while living with Crohn’s and Colitis on March 20.

The committee partnered with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada (CCC) to run their “Gut Feelings: Navigating Post-Secondary with Crohn’s and Colitis” conference, which covered topics from the basics of inflammatory disease (IBD) to mental health and diet.

The conference was led by committee co-chairs Iman Abdulla, HealthSci ’23, and Isabel Sawicki, ArtSci ’22. They’ve been planning the event since being elected in May and June of 2021.  

Throughout the year, Abdulla and Sawicki met regularly with their executive members and Sherry Pang, their representative and mentor from CCC.

“Through weekly meetings with the committee, each of our subcommittees took on tasks from coordinating communication with speakers, to drafting promotional materials, [and] securing event sponsors,” Abdulla said.

The committee promoted the event to over 50,000 individuals across Canada in partnership with CCC, and 50 individuals attended. The conference was also recorded to increase its accessibility.

Although CCC hosts national conferences regularly, this was the first organized and hosted “by students and for students,” according to Abdulla.

The conference targeted patients who are approaching or are currently enrolled in post-secondary education, hoping to help them navigate school with a chronic digestive disorder.

“While the prevalence of IBD is quite high and is most prevalent in Canada, it is not discussed as openly as other diseases,” Abdulla said. “It can be embarrassing to talk about the effects of living with a chronic bowel disease.”

Abdulla added that this stigma makes IBD both a physically and emotionally vulnerable disease.

“The disease is vulnerable and ostensibly ‘invisible’ but very real. [It] introduces a lack of awareness towards what IBD is.”

The event included speakers Dr. Moses Fung, Dr. Dean Tripp, and Dr. Deanna Gibson.

They gave an overview of IBD and mental health relating to IBD patients, combined with a discussion about the latest dietary approaches to improving IBD outcomes.

The student panel—which included Abdulla—answered questions based on their own experiences with Crohn’s and Colitis. Abdulla, who was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age 11, spent her formative years on bed rest, unable to be further than a few feet from the bathroom.

“I was left wondering what would happen to me [and] if things could ever get better,” she said.

Abdulla said that while her doctors were skilled and knowledgeable, they did not understand the experiences of being a patient with IBD. She found it hard to receive emotional support.

“I made a promise to myself after my first medical procedure that I would use my love of science and helping others into supporting other patients in their physical, emotional, and mental health by drawing on my own experiences with IBD,” she said.

Although Abdulla is stepping down from her position as co-chair this year, she is hopeful for ASUS’s future initiatives.

Currently, ASUS is coordinating a team where Canadian IBD patients will work with researchers at Queen’s GIRDU and IMAGINE SPOR Mental Health Working Group to inform future research directions for IBD.

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