Benefit to help Puhlmans with expenses

Life-long struggle ... Two boys in the same local family have the condition of colitis. Each year, around 30,000 cases are diagnosed and added to the estimated 1.4 million cases in America. From left: Braden, Lacy and Blake Puhlman.

"We thought it was just the flu," recalled Lacy Puhlman when her older son, 11-year-old Blake, originally became sick in late January. That illness grew worse, fearfully worse.

After finding no conclusive results from the many tests, the doctors at the Philip Health Services and at Rapid City Regional Hospital referred the Puhlmans to specialist Dr. Jon Vanderhoof of Omaha, Neb. Vanderhoof flies to Rapid City once a month to help people who have extreme digestive tract problems. His first step was to treat Blake for parasites, since, according to Vanderhoof, 60 percent of such parasites are undetectable.

"The medications made Blake's symptoms far worse," recalled Lacy. Blake doesn't want to remember those symptoms; abdominal pain, bleeding, diarrhea and fever.

In June, a colonoscopy was performed where 10 biopsies were extracted for testing. The results confirmed that, of the two most likely possibilities, Blake did not have Crohn's disease, but did have ulcerative colitis.

The main medical difference is that Crohn's spreads from the large intestine to include the small intestine. Colitis victims have an increased risk of colorectal cancer compared with the general population. Like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis can be debilitating and sometimes can lead to life-threatening complications.

Neither colitis or Crohn's is contagious. According to the Puhlmans, Vanderhoof related that susceptibility to and contraction of colitis is "10 percent genetics, while the rest is unknown." There are no known cases of colitis or Crohn's in the extended Puhlman family.

In July, nine-year-old Braden became ill, and "we also thought it was the flu," said Lacy.

In Braden's case, the colitis had been dormant until something unknown set it off. Now, his case is far worse than his brother's. After an emergency room visit in Philip, Braden took his turn seeing Vanderhoof. The family related Vanderhoof's words, "If you would have waited two more weeks to bring Braden in, the outcome would not have been good."

Colitis is incurable. At best, colitis can be put into remission with life-long medications. Every patient is different, and both boys are reacting differently to medications. Blake's case is considered to be moderate, with six to eight pills per day required. He calls them "the size of cow-pills." Braden said that Vanderhoof said his case, "is as severe as you can get." Lacy said, for Braden, "He is taking 10 pills per day for now, but having an operation to remove part or all of his colon is still not out of the question."

Braden's activities are extremely limited, especially in not playing football or any other contact sport. Braden said, "The toughest part is not being allowed to run."

"Everyone has been very supportive, family, my work, friends, the school," said Lacy. Both boys are permitted by the school faculty to suddenly leave classrooms without permission. Though the two boys are close, when asked if having a brother with the same illness makes things any easier, Braden frankly said, "Nope."

National Mutual Benefit (NMB) and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans are sponsoring a barbecue benefit at the commons area of the Fine Arts Building on Monday, September 24, from 5:00 to 6:30 p.m., prior to coronation.

"We are doing it to help Blake and Braden, and their mother, Lacy, with their medical expenses," said NMB member Maureen Palecek. "They both were diagnosed this past summer with ulcerative colitis and the boys, especially Braden, are very sick. By making people aware of what is going on with the boys, it will help us help them." The NMB People Helping People project will match raised funds up to $2,500.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans is helping with the fundraising barbecue and will match donated funds up to $1,000.