This fall Joel Paschen captained the boys soccer team at John Glenn High School in Walkerton, Ind., through its best season since becoming a varsity sport. From the sidelines, few would guess that the senior goalkeeper was recovering from a long battle with ulcerative colitis, a debilitating form of inflammatory bowel disease. Nor could they imagine what it took to overcome a condition that anyone-let alone a teenage boy-would find tough to handle.
“We were just amazed at his bravery to come through this like he has,” his mom says.
In spring 2008, Joel had a colonoscopy that showed a small ulcer. Joel’s parents, Steve and Rhonda Paschen, took him to pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Steve Steiner at the Riley Hospital for Children satellite clinic that serves the South Bend area.
“When I first met Joel, he had limited colitis, and I thought he was going to be stable,” Dr. Steiner says.
However, despite powerful medications and blood transfusions, the disease progressed rapidly, taking a physical and mental toll on Joel; he lost weight and began to isolate himself from his worried friends.
By Christmas, he’d become weak and disoriented. Joel was transported by ambulance to Riley Hospital, where another colonoscopy revealed that his colon was now 80 percent ulcerated. The family agreed that Joel’s colon should be removed.
Before surgery on February 6, 2009, Joel told his surgeon, Dr. Fred Rescorla, that he needed to start
soccer conditioning over the summer. Rhonda recalls that Dr. Rescorla promised, “I’ll have you back.”
And he did. Joel returned to school February 19 with an ostomy bag that he had for several months before undergoing reconstructive surgery. Joel finally began to confide in his closest buddies. “I said to my friend nicknamed Wiggles, ‘Want to see something cool?’ And he saw my small intestine and thought it was the coolest thing ever.” But most of his peers, including the students who worked with him on sound and lighting for the school theatre company and his prom date, didn’t even know about the bag.
“I wasn’t going to let it beat me,” Joel says. “I’m 17 years old, and I have a big span of life ahead of me.” His plans may include studying law enforcement or teaching history.
Not surprisingly, Joel credits soccer, including a two-mile run at the start of every practice, with restoring his strength. “Joel has rejuvenated himself physically and emotionally,” Dr. Steiner says. “He will be a great spokesman [for Riley Hospital]. He’s open and willing to discuss a disease that’s not so fun to talk about.