by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara-Wheatfield junior varsity girls basketball team has a bone to pick with Crohn's disease.
The chronic affliction, which causes weakening of the digestive tract, affects not one but two members of this year's team's extended family. Coach Kevin Schucker felt it was important to do whatever he could to fight back, changing his annual charity fundraiser game, scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday against Lewiston-Porter at Niagara-Wheatfield High School's gymnasium, 2292 Saunders Settlement Road, Lewiston, to benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
"Each year we pick a home game on the schedule and the kids get to wear special jerseys," he said. "We take a picture with the girls with a giant check, we have a 50/50 raffle, we give away some special prizes during the game."
On a list of diseases, Crohn's and Colitis are probably two of the least sexy afflictions the human race can endure. It's not easy to talk about digestive issues with close relatives, let alone random strangers.
But their destructive power can also be among the most painful and dangerous. Just ask Lisa Britton and Sherry Devantier how much of an affect the diseases can have on the sufferer's life.
Britton, Schucker's girlfriend, was vacationing in Myrtle Beach, S.C. last April when she was hit by what she thought was a Crohn's attack. A sufferer for her entire adult life, she was familiar with the flare-ups and shouldered the pain, believing it would go away.
When it didn't, and actually got much worse, the two of them became concerned. They called off their vacation and drove home to Western New York as quickly as possible. It turned out, Britton was extremely lucky.
"I always had my Crohn's attacks and as a woman, you just get used to the pain," she said. "But when it happened, I couldn't feel my legs. They were shutting down. My kidneys started shutting down. I went septic. I had emergency surgery and they took out most of my colon and about three feet of my intestine."
Unbeknownst to both herself and Schucker, at almost the same time, the mother of one of this year's players was fighting for her life as well. Freshman Brooke Devantier's mother, Sherry Devantier, was in the hospital for the same surgery as Britton when her heart failed and she went into cardiac arrest.
Brooke said doctors were able to revive her mother, who's been dealing with Crohn's disease for more than 30 years, on the operating table. She made it out alive and has since had a second successful surgery, giving her temporary relief from the affects of her condition.
Britton, too, said she's been symptom free since her surgery, and will likely remain so for a while. But it is only temporary. The surgery is not a cure for the disease. The disease will continue to thin the walls of their intestines as long as they live and
Brooke Devantier said she's happy to have the team's support for a disease which almost took her mother from her.
"I'm happy we're doing this," she said. "It's a way for us to help other people like my mom. It's a special cause to me and my whole family. My whole family's coming to the game."
"It's nice to help pit, especially when it's a disease that's affected one of my fellow teammates," senior player Meghan Maranto said.
The team's been raising money throughout the season for the game's big check presentation, which will have a member of the Western New York chapter of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America in attendance. Whatever they raise will be going directly to fund both research and activities the foundation holds throughout the community, including an annual awareness walk in Niagara County, which the foundation launched three years ago.
CCFA Development Manager Keri Sikora said the foundation also offers a monthly support group to help sufferers deal with their symptoms and provides an outlet for people to talk about the disease no one really wants to speak about.
"We have a support group which meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month," she said. "We like to offer support for anyone battling these diseases. It's a place to be able to go to talk about concerns associated with the disease. We try to change the topic up every month, where last meeting, we talked about nutrition. We talk about some of the basic issues in dealing with something not easily talked about."
For more information about the CCFA, go online to www.ccfa.org.