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Spunky Mesa girl helps spread word to fight disease

Talking bodily functions is often uncomfortable for people of any age. Abby Klosterman, 12, knows that all too well.

Two years ago, Abby was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease. After weeks in the hospital, multiple surgeries and missing nearly her entire year of fifth grade, Abby is healing and helping raise awareness of her disease and others like it.

This year Abby was named the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation's Arizona Honored Hero, tasked with motivating participants of the Dec. 5 Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon.

Abby's trouble started when she came home from school sick with what her parents thought was the flu.

A few days later she went to the hospital to get an X-ray of the wrist she'd recently broken playing soccer. By that time, she had lost 10 pounds in a week. Not long after, her mom, Gina Klosterman, noticed a toilet full of blood after her daughter used the bathroom and took her to the hospital.

After three days, the results of testing came back and they weren't good. Abby was sick with a bacterial infection and needed to be in the hospital.

A colonoscopy revealed something even worse: ulcerative colitis, which affects the large intestine and results in stomach pain, diarrhea, bleeding, fever and weight loss. Crohn's disease affects the entire gastrointestinal system.

Heavy medication and steroids remedied Abby's symptoms temporarily.

But the steroids brought on weight gain and swelling, which changed the way Abby looked and brought on teasing and whispers from her classmates. To help them understand what she was going through, Abby put together a presentation and stood in front of her class with her teacher and the school nurse to tell everyone why she missed so much school and why she looked different.

Klosterman said she was proud of the way her daughter handled herself in such a difficult situation. Abby went from having lots of friends to being ridiculed because of what she was going through.

"I couldn't believe she'd want to do that," Klosterman said. "It would have been hard for me."

When doctors realized treatment wouldn't help Abby, surgery became her only option. Doctor's removed Abby's colon in April, and Klosterman said Abby has recovered well.

"Obviously she has her days where it's tough, but she just has this spunk about her and she really doesn't let it get her down," Klosterman said.

Abby said attending support groups and talking to people who have gone through the same situation helped her get through hard times.

She met friends through the hospital in similar situations and has an aunt with the disease.

"I think it's easier to go through it with someone who's actually been through it than with a parent that doesn't know what it's like," Abby said.

Karen Crane, who heads the only Phoenix area parent support group for kids with Crohn's and colitis, met Abby around the time she got sick. Crane works with Team Challenge, the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation's endurance training and fundraising program, and nominated Abby for Honored Hero.

Crane's daughter Jennifer, 19, also has ulcerative colitis and started going to the support group around the time Abby got sick. Jennifer's illness led Crane to Team Challenge.

When the group was looking for an Honored Hero, "I immediately thought of Abby," Crane said. "I was just so impressed with all that Abby went through and her positive spirit."

Abby provides a voice for Crohn's and colitis, Crane said.

"She knows the importance of getting the word out there, and she's willing to share that with people, which I think is really brave," Crane said. "Most kids and adults don't really talk about it. That's one of the reasons why raising money is so difficult."

Much of the seventh-grader's time is taken up with honors classes at Highland Junior High, soccer and orchestra practices and sewing lessons. She also sews pillowcases and teddy bears for Andrea's Closet, a program that stocks closets in hospitals around the state with new toys and gifts. After a procedure, children can pick something from the closet.

"She just has a huge heart so she feels for kids who are stuck in the hospital," Klosterman said.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/community/mesa/articles/2010/10/29/20101029mesa-girl-helps-fight-colitis.html#ixzz14FB8rxtE