When I sat down to interview Lauren Leiva, I knew right away that I was going to connect with her. We’re both Florida girls, yoga teachers, health advocates, and most importantly, we both have Crohn’s Disease.
Our journeys couldn’t be more different, yet our struggles, fears, anxieties, and strengths are exactly the same.
This is Lauren’s story and she wants you to keep an open mind.
“I try not to judge others and what they don’t know,” said 34-year-old Lauren Leiva of Tampa, Florida.
Lauren has Crohn’s Disease and like we all know, there is no cure. The 1.6 million patients in the United States with Inflammatory Bowel Disease can only manage their symptoms, usually with risky medications.
“My Crohn’s was controlled, but not in a good way under all these medications. I was losing my hair, I got osteoporosis, I got pseudo rheumatoid arthritis,” said Lauren.
When she got pregnant for the second time in July of 2016, she was cautious. Her first pregnancy with her now 10-year-old son was difficult. Women with Crohn’s Disease have to be heavily monitored as they are usually considered high risk.
“I was told I could never have children with my severe Crohn’s because I was on all this biologic medication. When I got pregnant I took a chance and had my hope. And then my health declined.”
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She was in the hospital for 9 months from July 2016 to April 2017. It was all haze for her because she was put on opioids during her pregnancy.
“Dilauded, morphine, oxy, Ambien, Benadryl. These are all the things they would prescribe me. It’s a vicious cycle of lying in bed taking pills.”
Lauren told herself that once she got out of the hospital, she would find another way. She consulted with Dr. David Berger, her 10-year-old son’s pediatrician and a doctor with Wholistic ReLeaf in Tampa, Florida. He prescribes medical cannabis to his patients which is an approved treatment for Crohn’s Disease in the state of Florida.
“There’s both long and short term benefits from it. So, from a pain perspective we know that the first dose out can bring reduction in pain because of how it calms down the nerves,” said Dr. Berger. “We also know in a longer picture, because of the way it maintains balance and homeostasis in the body, it also can serve as a longer term anti-inflammatory.”
Lauren’s pregnancy was taking a turn for the worse. Her doctors recommended she get an abortion or she and the baby could die.
“I just kept saying the baby is okay. I knew that no matter what pain I was in as long as the baby was OK, I can handle it,” said Lauren.
Miraculously, on September 5, 2016, a healthy baby boy named Alexander Joseph was born. Lauren’s health continued to decline. She was in and out of the hospital for six more months. Her doctor told her that this was her new normal: living on opioids with an unfixable disease.
“For me to hear that was just terrible because I wanted to go home with my family,” said Lauren as tears streamed down her face.” That’s the worst pain in my life when you’re burning alive. Feces just spilling out.”
Lauren eventually found a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic who was able to perform a life-changing colostomy surgery. But, she was put back on pain medicines while trying to be a mom to two young boys and getting her PhD in physical therapy. Finally, she decided to take Dr. Berger’s advice and started taking medical cannabis. Everything changed.
“Immediately it was the best thing ever. It helped me eat, digest, sleep wake up.”
Lauren was able to get off all of her pain medicines and use medical cannabis as a way to relieve pain, stress, and anxiety.
“Left and right I am having people reducing their inflammatory medicines for colitis. I have seen people who are significantly lowering their Valium and other Benzodiazepines and Prozacs and all other medications,” said Dr. Berger.
“It’s not like ‘That ‘70s Show’ where you’re like smoking a joint and laying on the couch eating. I am trying to be an advocate and pave the way that people who have scholarships and doctorate degrees also have conditions they might require medical marijuana,” said Lauren.
“There are occasional cases of addiction, but relative to the opiates, the benzos, relative to any street drug, alcohol, or nicotine, it has much less addictive potential than with all those other things. That’s part of what the re-education needs to happen. This isn’t cocaine. This isn’t LSD. This isn’t heroine. We’re taking care of really sick people,” said Dr. Berger.
Lauren is now on only two medicines. She takes Humira, a common biologic drug used to treat Crohn’s Disease, and medical cannabis. She’s a yoga teacher, personal trainer, nutrition specialist and most importantly, a mom.
“I feel blessed. Being able to have an open mind and do your own research and have faith; it can take you a long way. It’s not like [we’re] sitting at home getting high. [We’re] sitting home getting healthy.”
For resources on Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, visit Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.
To join or donate to my Take Steps Walk for Crohn’s and Colitis team, click here.