"Running is my stress relief," said 33 year old Kristin McKinley as she laced up her gray running shoes, getting ready for a group run. "I could be a ball of tense and frustration and going and pushing my body to its limits just releases that stress and then the whole day, whatever has happened just doesn't matter anymore."
Out on the pavement, McKinley falls into an easy rhythm: one foot in front of the other, breaths in and out. But, that familiar movement is hard fought.
"A lot of it is the illness and fighting it and my body fights me and there are parts of it that are unhealthy. So, I'm going to fight for the parts that are strong and keep them strong," said McKinley.
The Baton Rouge resident first started running in college. She watched others running the LSU Lakes near her home and picked it up on a whim. Running quickly became her new passion, and it would come at a price.
McKinley is epileptic. When her heart rate spikes, she seizes and passes out. In order to keep running, she studied Buddhist meditation to master her breathing. That, in turn, helps her to control her heart rate and keep it from spiking.
Unfortunately, that was not her only health challenge.
"Kristin came to see us a few, a year ago or so with something called colonic inertia," said her gastroenterologist Dr. Aldo Russo. "She was having abdominal pain, difficulty moving her bowls and it was very stressful for her because it affected her quality of life."
"Eating caused severe pain with my body processing it," explained McKinley. "I spent two years on a liquid diet of just Boost. I live in South Louisiana and I couldn't eat food. That was miserable."
For 13 years, she went from doctor to doctor, but no one could give her an answer or relief.
"It's a horrible feeling when the doctor says, I can't find anything wrong. You wonder if it's all in your head," said the runner.
Finally an answer came from Dr. Russo and his team, but the solution was extreme and there was no guarantee it would work. Doctors would remove her colon.
"I was desperate enough to try," said McKinley.
"The last option was to confirm that there was nothing else wrong with her, and we went and referred her to our partners in NOLA for a colon resection," said Russo.
Russo warns that a total colectomy is not for every patient. It is a surgery reserved as a last resort and only used when no other form of treatment works. He also says it's a complicated surgery that requires a lot of adjustment on the part of the patient.
For McKinley, the surgery helped, but did not eliminate her pain. However, she says now it is manageable and she can again eat three meals a day.
Through it all, she kept running. Twelve and half weeks after surgery, McKinley ran a marathon. Her doctors say that fighting spirit is something all patients can learn from.
"Never give up," said Dr. Russo. "There is always something we can try."