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A PGA pro’s battle with ulcerative colitis

by   |   December 26, 2012
Rob Kenny

It was April 2010, and things in my life were going great. I was engaged to my dream girl, and was getting started at a brand new job, working as an assistant golf professional at a private club in Markham, Ontario. Not only that, but I was working with a great friend of mine, as well as one of the top head golf professionals in the province.

It was the perfect place for me to be at that point of my career. In my third year, I working under a great team at a great club. And on top of that, I had the opportunity to play a lot of local PGA events, which I was very excited about. Playing and competing at a high level is something I love and cherish, and I was pumped for the opportunity.

We were just getting things started at the club, setting up the pro shop and preparing for what was to be a great season. But things took a wicked turn for me in my own life. I found myself needing to go to the bathroom a lot more than normal, and experiencing quite a bit of stomach pain. I just sort of brushed it under the rug in the beginning, thinking it was nothing to worry about that it would go away on its own. Boy, was I wrong.

It continued to happen, increasing in frequency as well as in the urgency to go. When I had to go, I had to go NOW — no waiting around what so ever. The tipping point came when I began to notice blood in my stool. I knew this was something that was not going to go away on its own. I needed to get help.

I went to the doctor, and thus began a wild series of events that just never seemed to end. There were countless doctors and tests to try to determine what was wrong and why this was happening to me. In the beginning, I was told it was a bowel disease called “Ulcerative Proctitis.” They told me it was nothing major, and a series of medication were supposed to calm everything down and get things back to normal. I had been sick for about four months, so was excited to hear the news and happy to get my life back on track.

After taking the doctor’s advice and medication I was no better — maybe even a bit worse. I went back to the specialist and told him that there was no progress. Like me, he was concerned, and booked a colonoscopy. For anyone who has had this done, you know it is no fun at all, but at the same time it needed to be done so the doctors could see exactly what was going on. What the doctors found was worse than the original “scope” showed — more of my colon was affected, and my doctor was confident that I had “Ulcerative Colitis.”

For those who aren’t familiar with Ulcerative Colitis, it is an inflammatory bowel disease that unfortunately has no known cause, and only one cure; surgery. The symptoms are many, and include living in a bathroom (at the worst, I would have to go about 20 or more times a day). It also causes constant stomach pain, fatigue, weakness and other bad things.

Even though there was only the one cure, the doctor was nowhere near ready to make me go under the knife. He recommended a high-strength steroid (prednisone) that he thought would calm things down and ease the swelling of the colon, sending the disease into remission. There are thousands of people who have Crohns and Colitis and can live a normal life through medication and treatment, and we were hoping I would be one of them — David Garrard, a former Jacksonville Jags QB is a well-known athlete who has Crohns.

Of course, this made things at the golf club a lot tougher. I was in so much pain and in the bathroom so often. It affected my performance in the shop and on the course. I tried my best while there, but it was not easy. I played when the pain was not as high, but my game suffered. I was only able to play in two events all year, and they were both poor outings — a missed cut in the Ontario PGA Championship and a tough day two in our Assistants summer Championship that had me at the back of the pack.

Playing two consecutive days of tournament golf with this disease was tough, and the fatigue and pain caught up to me in the end. I knew that that was probably going to be it for me for tournaments for 2010, and that was tough to deal with. I knew I was just not healthy enough to play and compete at that level. I just wanted to put all of my energy to getting better and beating the disease. I ended up leaving the club just before the end of the season, as the pain and stress of it all was just too much for my body to handle.

It was now October, and all of these pills and medications were not doing anything for me. I felt I was getting worse and no progress was being made. I went back to the doctor and he knew at this point that the prednisone was not the answer. What I needed was a new drug treatment called Remicade. This was a new treatment for UC patients, but it had offered great results for some. The problem with this treatment is that you have to be approved through the government for it, and you have to get an insurance company to support you, as this treatment costs over $4000 per dose (it is an IV style treatment that goes directly into the blood stream.)

After a long wait and a number of phone calls, emails and paperwork, I was finally approved for the treatment. I had three appointments booked, and they had told me that this should get things into remission. Well, three treatments and more than $12,000 later, I was still not any better, and I knew the surgery was the next step. I was now a year into it and so sick and tired of being so sick and tired. I could not wait to have the surgery and be 100 percent cured of this disease. The main setback with this was the fact that I would have a colostomy bag on the outside of my stomach. It would be a major thing to get used to, but I knew I could do it. I felt it would be a piece of cake!

It was now August 2011 and almost one year since I had last played a round of golf. I remember being in the waiting room waiting to be called into the OR, and I kept thinking of all the things I was going to do when I was better. Golf was high on that list. Getting out to play and compete again was a high priority, and one I could not wait for! It took a while before that first round, but it was all worth it!  I remember playing late in 2011, just one round. I was playing with my wife and in-laws at a course I knew well, and standing on that first tee was very special. After all that I had been through, all the hard times and struggles, I was back! I shot a high number that day, but the thrill of being back on the links was so special, and a round I will never forget.

I really appreciate GolfWRX allowing me the opportunity to share my story with the community here. I have left this off with a lot more to add to my story and I hope you enjoyed the read. For anyone looking for more information on the disease, I urge you to check out the websites below, and feel free to PM with any questions you may have in regards to the disease.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum. 

http://www.ccfa.org/  and  http://www.ccfc.ca/

About

I am a very proud member of the PGA of Canada, and love all aspects of this great game. I had ulcerative colitis in 2010 and 2011, and had my colon removed in August of 2011. It was the best decision of my life. I am currently working hard on my game and career, and I love the opportunity to share my story with the GolfWRX community


10 Comments

  1. paul k.

    January 18, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    good luck w everything rob…i had ulcerative colitis for about 6 yrs..and endless trips to the bathroom and feeling tired..it felt like i was prescribed every possible drug on the market, and nothing helped. at one point i shriveled down to 117 lbs.(im 6’3)..i got emergency surgery on christmas eve to have my colon removed,,and it was the best thing ever. surgery seems like the only solution. good luk everyone with the disease, and good luck with your golf rob. ill be checking on how youre doing

  2. Tom

    January 3, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Rob,
    Thanks for sharing your story- I hope everything is going well for you and your family. As a young man with UC also, I know it can be tough, especially with an active lifestyle. Take it easy and good luck with the gophers.

    Tom

  3. Robin

    January 3, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    This is a very inspirational story. I have Crohns myself (diagnosed Nov 2009) and went 11 months with no diagnosis, being told I had a “persistent stomach flu” and IBS. Finally a month long bout of kidney stones kicked off my long trek to remission. I am so glad to hear you are on the mend, sorry it took surgery to get you there, and wish you the best and many happy rounds on the course :)

  4. naflack

    January 3, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I lost my colon from UC in 2010 after battling it for 6 years. I am now disease free but will tell you first hand life without a functioning large intestine is quite challenging. Your strength and energy levels never return, sleeping through the night it’s no longer an option and you will battle significant dehydration for the rest of your life.
    If you know anyone with crohns or UC understand that they in essence live their daily lives with symptoms you would associate with a stomach virus, everyday.

  5. Tom Earls

    January 3, 2013 at 10:47 am

    bob,
    Thank you for your story. I had Ulcerative Colitis for about 40 years, from the age of 24 to 66. I got some relief at about age 47 when I began taking a lot of Pepto Bismol which kills bactera. I finally achieved nearly 100% relief when I began taking colostrum 3 years ago. It is an auto immune enhancer from the first milk of a cow that has just given birth. I can only say it absolutely worked for me. I now get minor symptoms when I eat spagetti three days in a row, but I’m cured. Best of luck with you golf. Can you tell me how to cure my golf game?
    Tom Earls
    Sturbridge, MA

  6. Erica K

    January 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    What an inspiring story! Keep doing what you’re doing and I know we’ll be seeing the name “Rob Kenny” on the leaderboard in the very near future.

  7. Chris

    December 31, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    This is a good article about UC. As a sufferer for 20 years i can understand what you are going through, although mine appears much milder than yours. i have been on mesalazine for 19 years and 1 year on the prednisolone that saw my weight balloon. This is a good read and reminder of what happened to me a good few years back.

  8. DaverB

    December 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Great article Rob.
    With your dedication and tenacity, I look forward to seeing you playing in The Big Show in the very near future.

  9. Sam

    December 27, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    I definitely feel for you, Rob, as I have UC myself. I have a lighter case than many, and have managed mostly through diet (I was on sulfasalazine for years and that never really helped). I’m sorry you had to have surgery (I’ve considered it sometimes when I’m in bad flares), but it sounds like you’re taking it in stride and have great things ahead of you.

    -S

  10. Des

    December 27, 2012 at 11:40 am

    My daughter is a keen sportswoman and hard working 27yr old and manages her life around Chrohn’s. Your story is brave and candid and helpful to others with similar conditions. I wish you every sucess in your life and in your sport, you clearly have the strength of character to work through this tough period and I wish you every success and happiness in 2013. Des.

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