In most ways, Patrick May is like many other 10th graders. He loves his family dog. He runs cross country. He plays the cello in the school orchestra. He likes video games and even dreams of making them someday. And he's starting to think about college visits--not too hard, mind you, but thinking about them nonetheless.
Patrick has Crohn's disease. Though he is a lot like other kids in most respects, the challenges he has faced because of his disease give his youthful enthusiasm a deeper layer of meaning. He has had multiple major surgeries and is much smaller than his classmates because of how Crohn's affects his body's ability to get the nutrients it needs.
"In a very general sense, my body thinks that food is germs," Patrick says.
Inflammatory bowel disease can affect any part, or the whole, of the gastrointestinal tract. Since this part of the body is a key part of digestion, many people experience sensitivity to certain kinds of foods and often experience significant abdominal pain. This inflammation, even when its well-managed and monitored, can lead to a need for surgery.
In Patrick's case, one surgery was needed to remove strictures (a type of blockage) from his small intestine, and he needed a second surgery to alleviate scar tissue that built up as a result of the first.
For Patrick's part, he's open about living with Crohn's and doesn't mind talking about how it has affected his life.
"It's a little bit weird to talk about sometimes," he says. "But it feels nice to give back to a community."
And this is where Patrick stops being like other kids. At a young age, Patrick got involved with the Pittsburgh chapter of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation so that he could help raise awareness for these diseases that affect 1.6 million Americans and help to fundraise for the research and support that those same people desperately need.
Patrick's role in the Foundation quickly grew. He gave his first keynote when he was in fourth grade.
And those talks have continued, as has his work with Team Challenge, a half-marathon fundraiser, and with promoting Take Steps, an annual walkathon fundraiser which benefits the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. His work has evolved as he has grown and matured, but even a brief talk with Patrick it's clear to see why he took to the spotlight so quickly.
The inspiration that Patrick provides doesn't come from a singular accomplishment or a magical moment where he conquered a big obstacle, but rather it comes from the purity of his positivity and his enthusiasm for life. He can talk objectively about his disease, and he is empathetic to the many people who might have even worse hardships than he does.
For Patrick, it all comes back to community.
When he hits a rough patch, he relies on his friends and family for support. They exchange Skype calls. They play video games. They talk about video games and sports. And he hopes to be that support for others.
"It's good to have people in both groups, people who understand the disease and people who are just friends," Patrick says. "It can be daunting sometimes, but that helps."
Patrick's message is bigger than hoping that you support the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Though he hopes that you contribute and participate in events, at the core of it, he wants you to be the support for someone in need.
"A lot more people than you think have Crohn's or Colitis," Patrick says.
You could be their inspiration to stay positive and look to the future the way that Patrick does.