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Heart Of Steel: How A Crohn's Diagnosis Led To A Passion For Giving Back

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When she was just eight years old, Rhonda Bolding became one of the 780,000 Americans currently living with symptoms of Crohn's disease. Due to an initial misdiagnosis, however, another four years would pass before she was formally diagnosed with the disease.

Along with ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease is characterized as an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Though many are unaware of how prevalent these diseases are, they affect the lives of people throughout our communities.

At the time of Bolding's diagnosis, information about IBD wasn't nearly as available as it is today, and her parents were unsure of how to best handle their daughter's illness. They were referred to the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation (CCF), and although Bolding didn't know it at the time, that decision would shape not only her life but also the lives of others in need.

Bolding admits that when she was first introduced to the CCF, she was resistant to what it had to offer. "Some people really enjoy that shared experience, but I didn't want the resources like the support group. I went, but I went despite reluctance," she says. "I started to realize its impact as an adult."

Years later, Bolding's illness worsened. "When I was really sick, I spent half a year in the hospital. I lost my job because of it. They put me on IV nutrition for over a year. I was 60 lbs. and not healthy enough for the surgery I needed, and I used to pray to go to sleep and not wake up." Out of her struggle, though, came a miracle. "I was told that I'd never have children because of my condition. But then I became pregnant with my daughter. Being pregnant has an amazing effect on decreasing Crohn's symptoms, and after my daughter was born, my symptoms came back, but I was healthy enough to have surgery."

Having survived and thrived through her own experience with Crohn's, Bolding now shows others that even when it seems like all hope is lost, a light can still be found. "When I was a kid and living with this disease, I used to sit by the window and watch the other kids play. I was too sick and in too much pain to have a childhood, and I don't want to see other children go through that. But I feel like we're so close to a cure. When I grew up, the 'cure' was steroids. So much progress has been made since then."

In 1997, Bolding decided to become involved with the CCF. Originally from the Detroit area, she moved to Georgia and then Florida before finally coming to Pittsburgh and becoming heavily involved with the organization. She's been on the board since 2013, playing a crucial role in the Western PA / West VA Chapter's fundraising efforts.

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This year's Fall Fundraiser stood out from the rest.

The previous Fall Fundraiser, Opening Night!, centered around a red-carpet event that gave attendees the opportunity to see a new movie the day before it opened worldwide. This year, though, the fundraiser was the Night of Steel: a celebration of "all things Pittsburgh" that included a cocktail party, a caricature workshop, auctions, a photo booth, and more. Bolding served as the chairman for the fundraiser, and, touchingly, her husband also got involved as one of the "Fund the Mission" speakers to present his experience as a caregiver.

Night of Steel was both a personal success for Bolding and a massive success for the Foundation. "We reached our goal on every level, from sales to attendance and everything else," says Bolding. In fact, the event (which benefitted from the largest "Fund the Mission" ask ever) passed its goal of $60,000 and surpassed $3,900 in live auction sales alone. "We've built a great foundation to build upon next year," says Bolding.

As that next year rolls around, Bolding will have an even greater opportunity to serve the Foundation as the newly elected President of the board. In addition to her career as the marketing manager for cross-disciplinary design firm Strada, she also has a seemingly endless number of volunteer roles. The United Way, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, Society for Marketing Professional Services, Optimist International, and the Highmark Caring Place are just a few of the organizations that Bolding has worked with over the years. She also served as the Great Lakes Regional Communications Officer for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated (AKA) from 2014-2018, and currently serves as a middle school mentor and the Program Director for the Pittsburgh chapter of Jack and Jill of America Incorporated.

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Bolding's passion for giving back is both inspiring and contagious. Her young daughter has already found a love for volunteer work and enthusiastically takes part in trips to senior centers. "It's a part of her," says Bolding. "When I'm volunteering, I forget I have Crohn's. Encouraging others encourages myself. I can show people that it gets better."

Learn more about the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation and see how you can help by visiting their website.

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