DUNEDIN — From looking at her dazzling smile, and knowing about her athletic conquests, one would never guess Wendy Collins Hoogsteden was one of the estimated 780,000 people in the U.S. who suffered from the excruciating painful effects of Crohn’s Disease or was one of the 907,000 who was also tortured by the agony of a similar ailment called ulcerative colitis.

However, after years of putting on a brave face, and covering up her daily pain and anguish with a warm welcoming smile, this past October Wendy succumbed to complications of Crohn’s disease and colitis at age 47. Anybody who knew this vivacious and spirited athlete were shocked.

Consequently, Michael Hoogsteden said he dedicated his life to finding a cure and raising funds for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

Beginning September 2019, he plans to embark on a 42-day bicycling journey across the southern United States from Santa Barbara, California, to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to raise funds and awareness.

Hoogsteden, a director of Services for Advanced Turbine Support, explained 100 percent of all the donations he receives will go toward funding the efforts of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the largest investor in IBD research in the world.

Hoogsteden said he has been taking practice runs for what will be an enormous undertaking, both physically and mentally.

He has collected about $30,000 toward his goal of $100,000 for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in the name of Wendy.

“She would light up your day.”

Michael Hoogsteden remembers how he and Wendy met as instructors in a Zephyrhills skydiving school and how before they left the school to move to Dunedin Wendy was proud to have achieved 5,000 jumps.

Wendy subsequently became an occupational therapist, a career she loved, because she enjoyed helping people and making them feel better.

“It’s hard for anyone who knew her to fathom how an avid triathlete, bicyclist, skydiver and competitive body builder, could have been stricken and suffer daily with such debilitating diseases,” Hoogsteden said. “She mostly hid her pain from others and covered it up with her dazzling smile.”

“Wendy had one of the most beautiful, and strong souls I have had the privilege of knowing. From the moment you met her, she would light up your day with her amazing smile and her love for life,” her husband recalled.

“Although her battle with Crohn’s and Colitis caused unimaginable, ongoing, painful suffering, she always focused her energy and loving compassion to help uplift others,” he added. 

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are both major categories of debilitation Inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract, most often the small intestine to the large colon. Ulcerative colitis is a chronic inflammatory condition limited to the colon, otherwise known as the large intestine to the rectum.

Most of its victims are embarrassed to discuss details or effects of the disease, since it causes inflammation of the digestive tract, along with severe abdominal pain, diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, malnutrition, bloody stool, bowel obstruction, nausea, vomiting or flatulence.

Wendy began suffering from Colitis in her early 20s and kept under control until it manifested into Crohn’s disease in her 30s, when it became extraordinarily painful, he explained.

She tried special diets and had several surgeries on her intestines to control the effects of the disease, but eventually they did not do much to help, he added.

Even after she was suffering terribly, Wendy volunteered at a bird shelter and for Hospice.

“She always was devoted to helping others,” he said.

“Most frustrating for her was wanting to bicycle or workout but not being able to, because her body won’t let her,” he said.

After Wendy’s death, Michael vowed to help raise awareness and funds to find a cure.

“There are very few effective pharmaceuticals that target this disease and there is no known cure. I am compelled to help change this unfortunate reality that affects so many people,” he said.

Studies show the disease is on the rise in the United States as well as around the world and is affecting a younger population. Although they do not know why, researchers say Crohn’s Disease is becoming more common. They estimate that in the United States six to 15 new cases of Crohn’s disease are diagnosed per 100,000 people each year.

According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in 2015, an estimated 1.3% of United States adults or 3 million people reported being diagnosed with IBD, either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. This was a large increase from 1999 when that number was 0.9% of the population or 2 million adults, officials said.

Interestingly enough, CDC researchers found Crohn’s Disease effects even more Americans than initially believed, when they added statistics of those hospitalized sufferers whose doctors listed the disease as a secondary diagnosis.

“On the basis of the National Inpatient Sample data, there was no significant change in the hospitalization rate when Crohn’s disease was the primary diagnosis from 2003 to 2013. The hospitalization rate, however, increased significantly during this period, from 44.2 to 59.7 per 100,000 population, when it was listed as any secondary diagnosis,” according to the CDC.

In addition, a 2013 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health reported, “It is now clear that IBD is increasing worldwide and has become a global emergence disease. IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis … is now affecting a much younger population.”

Those interested in supporting Michael's quest can visit online.ccfa.org/HonoringWendy.