PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness, a chance to safely put off a medical procedure for a chance to do something fun is a welcome relief.
For Kailey Shaw, a 17-year-old junior at Presque Isle High School, relief came Saturday afternoon in the form of just one more varsity softball doubleheader.
So instead of spending time recovering from surgery related to complications from moderate ulcerative colitis and autoimmune hepatitis in the liver, she was on the softball field at PIHS for her final two games of the season.
The entire varsity girls team, including her family and the parents of her teammates, were there to support her as she did it.
Ulcerative colitis is a chronic disease that affects the colon or large intestine and usually develops between the ages of 15 and 30 or between 50 and 70, according to a website dedicated to living with the disease. While the majority of ulcerative colitis symptoms occur in the intestine, the disease also can cause problems in other parts of the body. People who have ulcerative colitis for a long time are at an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Up to 3 percent of ulcerative colitis patients have symptoms of mild to severe liver disease.
Shaw was diagnosed with her conditions in November 2010, her mother, Jenni Shaw, said Saturday afternoon.
Physicians tried to manage the symptoms with medications at first, but Kailey endured “one relapse after another.”
“Her colon just kept getting weaker and weaker,” she said. “They tried intravenous treatments and those did not work. So they finally had to remove the colon to get rid of the colitis. She lost her full colon during surgery in Portland on February 2, and the second procedure was done in March.”
Because she was recovering from those surgeries, Kailey, who also plays soccer and volleyball, missed the volleyball season. On Monday, she will have surgery to reverse the effects of the first two surgeries and restore function.
“Lord willing, she can resume pretty much a normal life,” said Jenni Shaw.
During her daughter’s healing progress, Jenni Shaw and her husband, Mike, the pastor at State Street Baptist Church in Presque Isle, contacted a friend to have a special shirt made. It was a spoof of the popular “Got Milk?” T-shirt. On the front of Kailey’s shirt was printed “Got Colon?” On the back was the answer: “I don’t.”
The 17-year-old wore the shirt to a softball spring training trip to Florida, and it caught on with her teammates.
Mark White, the athletic director for SAD 1, said Saturday that he also liked the shirt and the team approached him about having some made to show support for her during a game.
“I thought it was a great idea,” he said.
On Saturday, teammates wore the shirts off the field during the doubleheader, as did the coach, team managers and a number of friends and family members in the audience.
Their shirts said “Got colon?” on the front and “Kailey doesn’t” on the back.
Mike Shaw said that his daughter has been “a real inspiration and a real trouper” throughout the experience and has always had the finish line in sight.
“Her community of friends, her sports teams and her faith community is also a reason why she has been positive through it all,” he said before the game.
Kailey Shaw said that such support has really benefited her.
“It means a lot to know that I am not by myself, that people are standing behind me through it all and showing support through the shirts,” she said.
She also got a surprise phone call from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who let her know that she was thinking of her and wishing her well.
“She asked how I was doing,” she said. “It was really cool to know that someone so high up in our government called just to check in and see how I was doing.”
Although she acknowledged that she has had some down days during the past two years, she tries to push negative thoughts out of her mind as much as she can.
“So far, things have been good,” said the teen. “People have been checking in by phone and email and through Facebook and they have been working to push me through. And it is almost the end.”
After her surgery on Monday, she will spend two or three months recovering — just enough time to be back in shape and on the field for soccer season.