\One in 200 people nationwide has a gastrointestinal (GI) syndrome,so chances are you know someone who has one," said graduating senior Alyse B.
When Alyse was a high school freshman, she was diagnosedwith Crohn's disease. "I didn't know anyone else who could relate," she said.Seeking to find others with similar experiences, she and senior David F.founded the Gastrointestinal Student Initiative (GISI) in January 2010 toconnect college students with GI problems. "This group was my first opportunityto be with people who had shared the experience," she added.
With the trifold mission of providing support, education,and fundriaising for research, the three semester-old group is finding creativeways to discuss and raise awareness for all sorts of GI syndromes, includingCrohn's Disease, Colitis, and IBD.
Working closely with the RCPD Chronic Health Specialist,Shani Feyen, the original small team of students crafted an initiative whichwould take them in several directions. "Shani has taken a very active role andis always there with good advice and a helping hand," said David.
The first goal of the group at its inception wassupport-based, and a small group of five to eight students gathered to discusstheir shared experiences and obstacles they face as students. "We talk aboutthings like the best bathroom and cafeteria on campus," said David. "You don'tknow that many people, besides family, who you can confide in. We all come fromthe same experience, and it's like a safe space," added Alyse.
The group's membership is diverse, as Alyse majored inSpanish and David studied Human Biology, Psychology, and Health Studies. Theyalso invite those interested in learning about GI issues to join. "Some peoplecome who don't have GI problems- it's a great place to ask questions, and mostpeople are very open," said Alyse.
"Not every meeting do we sit around and talk about what'swrong with us, though!" she said, "Sometimes we just discuss what's going on inour lives." Many of Alyse's closest friends have joined the group, and shebelieves it was one of the most impactful experiences of her college career.
David, who works in four different research labs on campusexploring GI issues, wanted to introduce an aspect of education to the group,so he helped organize medical professionals to speak to the students. "We've exploredboth the physiological and psychological aspects of the disease," said David,who plans to pursue a medical degree in gastroenterology.
"I shadowed GI doctors, and saw everything most people inthe group are going through from a medical perspective. It's eye-opening to seeit from a personal level," said David.
GISI's third focus involves public affairs, and the grouphopes to instigate change in several areas in the coming year. In 2008,legislation opening up bathroom usage policies in restaurants was passed acrossthe country in order to aid those with GI disorders. Known in Michigan as HouseBill 5046, the Restroom Access Act grants access to employee-only restrooms, inplaces such as restaurants and retail establishments, to those with aprescription statement indicating he or she is affected by Crohn's disease,ulcerative colitis, any other inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowelsyndrome, or any other medical condition that requires urgent access to a restroom. GISI hopes to expand the new regulationsto cafeterias on campus, a change which would significantly aid those with GIdisorders.
The group is also advocating for higher nutritional standardsin MSU cafeterias. "When I lived in the dorms, I was on a low-residue diet andcouldn't eat things like raw fruits and vegetables in dorms, and a lot of theother staples for everyone else like the salad bar," said Alyse. She believesnewly renovated cafeterias, which include many more options for students withdietary restrictions, are a step in the right direction away from the standardof fried and unhealthy food.
As the goals and accomplishments of GISI continue to expand,David and Alyse hope MSU students gain more awareness for the prevalent problemof GI disorders. "These issues aren't going away-in fact, they're increasing.There is a lot of research left to be done, and it's vital at a massiveresearch institution like MSU that a group like this exists," said David.
In May, GISI will walk in the Taking Steps Walk for thesecond year to support the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. Tosupport their group at the walk on May 15, click here. To learn more, join thefacebook group here.