OC Spotlight is a regular column focusing on medical professionals in our community.
It was a warm June day in the summer of 1966. In the Washington D.C. area, 10-year-old Richard Rood was doing his best to play Little League Baseball. He knew he wasn’t the best of players, but what he didn’t understand was why he felt so sick. Complaining of abdominal cramps and diarrhea, his mother took him to their pediatrician.
At Fairfax County Hospital numerous contagious disease studies were performed but they were unable to make a definitive diagnosis, so Richard was transferred to Georgetown University Medical Center. Pediatric specialist, Dr. Philip Calcagno made the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis—an Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that causes inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract.
He remembers his youth saying, “I was lousy at Little League. In fact, my parents kiddingly blame ulcerative colitis for that. Even got hit in the nose, causing it to bleed when we were practicing. I’ve had a bit of a phobia ever since—I don’t like going to baseball games and sitting by the base line for fear of being hit by a ball.”
Richard spent the next three years being a patient at various medical facilities, including the University of Chicago Hospital. By age 13, he had already been through multiple attempts at treatment involving barium enemas, high-dose steroids, sulfasalazine, and several rigid sigmoidoscopies to examine the lower part of his colon.
During the worst times, he’s experienced severe abdominal pain, fatigue and growth failure from ulcerative colitis. But not even those horrible symptoms could compare to the insensitivity of others which upset him the most. Richard recalls an incident at a movie theatre in Laurel, Maryland, “I remember going to see the latest James Bond thriller with my family. Instead of enjoying the movie, I was cramped over in a bathroom stall with bloody diarrhea. The stall door had no lock and an impatient kid kept pushing the door open which hit my head. I felt helpless and stuck while my head was being battered. After that incident, someone always came with me into public restrooms.”
In January, 1970 Richard’s family moved to Columbus, Ohio. After being in school just one week he became violently ill, so his parents decided the best option was homeschooling to continue his education in a less stressful environment. After being admitted for treatment at Ohio State University Hospital, doctors said that his colon would need to be removed or he could die. At age 13, ileostomy surgery was performed on March 17, 1970 by Dr. William G. Pace and it was a success. Finally, disease-free and off medication, Richard grew six inches in one year and re-entered school as a ninth grader.
People often ask why he decided to become a doctor. Richard’s response, “When I was no longer afraid of them, I joined them.” When was that? “After ostomy surgery.”
Not only did he want to become a doctor, but specifically wanted to study diseases affecting the gastrointestinal tract. “I want to help people so they won’t have to go through what I endured.” With a clear goal in mind, Richard graduated from Wright State University School of Medicine and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at Ohio State University Hospital—the same hospital where he had his colectomy. Dr. Rood then received his gastroenterology training at Tufts University, New England Medical Center.
With having ulcerative colitis, Richard came in contact with many well-known gastroenterologists who later became friends and colleagues, guiding and mentoring his career in medicine. One of the most notable being Dr. Joseph Kirsner, a renowned gastroenterologist and pioneer in the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease who passed in September, 2012 at age 102. He made a lasting impression on Dr. Rood.
“My physician, mentor and colleague, Joseph B. Kirsner, MD, Ph.D, was an incredible man. He had the skill to guide and care for patients with severe cases of IBD and earned the respect and gratitude of many, the latter of which was very important as a 12-year-old ulcerative colitis patient. While considering where to go for my gastroenterology fellowship, my wife and I flew to Chicago to ask his advice on where I should apply to become an IBD gastroenterologist. I received acceptance to all the programs he listed for me. As a colleague, Dr. Kirsner was always available for guidance and consultation.”
Today, Richard P. Rood, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF, FASGE, is a Board-Certified gastroenterologist and serves as the Medical Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and has written multiple journal and instructional articles for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation. As a proud parent to three grown children, grandfather of four grandchildren and 48-year veteran ileostomate, Dr. Rood finds great fulfillment and purpose in his life saying, “I have ended up where I thought I would be.”