Indigo Philo was a freshman in college when she began to get painful stomach cramps and an overwhelming sense of urgency to go to the bathroom. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the intestines, resulting in intestinal inflammation, abdominal pain and bleeding. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic lifelong disease that has no cure.

Indigo’s diagnosis was 35 years ago when there weren’t a lot of treatment choices. She was allergic to sulfa drugs so she received steroids. “I was in and out of college and in and out of the hospital,” says Indigo. She met her husband while attending the University of Washington and then began to work.

“The world was a different place at that time. There were no accommodations,” she notes. “It was tough to talk about this debilitating disease to your boss and hard to manage. Pain and cramps might hit you anytime. Sometimes I’d feel overwhelming pain and cramps up to 20 times a day.”

New Medications Help

After about 25 difficult years, Indigo began taking new biologic medications. They work by suppressing or weakening the immune system. “When I had my first infusion, I felt better instantaneously,” exclaims Indigo. “I thought—this is what life is like for a normal person! I was able to travel to these beautiful caverns in Arizona called Kartchner Caverns that were an hour from the bathroom and not have anxiety.” While Indigo still has active periods of disease, her quality of life has improved greatly.

When her physician retired, Indigo began to look for a new partner in her health care and she interviewed several doctors. “I met Dr. James Lord and he was calm, thoughtful, intelligent and compassionate. I thought this is the doctor for me.”

Biorepository Supports Research

James Lord, MD, PhD, practices gastroenterology at Virginia Mason Seattle Medical Center and is a researcher at Benaroya Research Institute. He informed Indigo about the BRI biorepository, which collects, processes, stores and distributes biospecimens to support scientific research. BRI scientists use the donated biologic samples and medical histories to study ways to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure autoimmune and immune-mediated diseases.

Indigo learned about the BRI biorepository that supports scientists in finding ways to prevent, diagnose, treat and cure autoimmune and immune-mediated diseases. She joined and provided health information and a blood sample. Indigo also encourages her friends and family, many of whom have autoimmune diseases, to join.

Recruiting Family Members

Indigo has joined the biorepository and has recruited five family members to join—people with and without immune system diseases. A number of autoimmune diseases are present in Indigo’s family, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes. Joining the fight against one autoimmune disease can lead to progress against them all.

“I’m excited about the research and of course I’d love a cure,” says Indigo. “But short of a cure, I’m really happy that BRI and Virginia Mason are truly committed to helping people with autoimmune diseases. They give me great hope that really smart people are working to make a difference.”

For more information visit BRI's Biorepositories.


Originally published in BRING IT ON newsletter - Winter 2016

Living With A Disease

December 8, 2016

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