Ritwik “Rik” Bag is no ordinary high school student. The 16-year-old junior is in the top three percent of his class at Carmel High School, is a member of the tennis team, plays tuba in Carmel High School’s highest band (Wind Symphony 1), is an officer with the Carmel Mayor’s Youth Council, is a member of the Debate Club and tutors fellow students. Rik also happens to have a chronic condition that can bring daily pain and demands vigilant care.
Rik first started feeling sick during tennis camp the summer before his freshman year. “I was getting extremely hot and dehydrated, and had a low grade fever and abdominal cramps, but it was a really hot summer and we were practicing a lot, so I didn’t think too much of it,” he recalls. “Then, in the first few weeks of school, the fever came back. I had pain in my stomach and my bottom, and I was getting nauseous from everything I ate or drank, even just water.”
Rik’s mom, Anushree Bag, took him to several doctors before the team at Indiana University Health found a large abscess. He underwent two surgeries at Riley Hospital at IU Health and was then diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract. “Crohn’s was nowhere in the picture. It wasn’t in our family,” Anushree recalls. “It doesn’t typically happen in the Indian population. We were shocked.”
The family immediately began working to manage Rik’s condition, juggling multiple surgeries, colonoscopies, medications and doctor visits, along with his daily nausea, fatigue and stomach cramps. Rik also has asthma, very high myopia (nearsightedness), and ocular migraines—a recent diagnosis.
Still, Rik has not abandoned his drive. This year, he was named the Honored Hero for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. He has helped raise thousands of dollars for research by talking about his struggle with Crohn’s, which is often referred to as an invisible disease.
“It’s still not the greatest thing, obviously, talking about something that’s so personal, but I know it’s not just about me. It’s about motivating and empowering others,” Rik says.
After high school, Rik wants to pursue a degree in medicine, citing the “best of the best” doctors he’s come to know at Riley. Riley Pediatric Gastroenterologist Steven Steiner, M.D., says he has no doubt Rik will succeed.
“Thankfully, we have treatments for Crohn's disease that allow people to live very full, happy lives, and Rik is an example of a young man who’s doing just that,” Dr. Steiner says. “He’s just an amazing person. He’s intellectually brilliant, and I have no doubt that he will go on to be a very productive member of society.”