Lauren Oland Casazza and Christopher Casazza
Lauren Oland Casazza has never had infusion therapy, but she has a very strong personal connection to the children who will use the new Infusion & Dialysis Center. When she was 8 she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which causes inflammation of the bowel, excruciating pain, severe diarrhea, failure to grow, and other debilitating symptoms. Back then, in 1984, the preferred treatment was prednisone, a steroid, which was given in a pill form. And her subsequent treatments were all done with pills or resection surgery (she has had three), so she never received infusion therapy.
But even if the treatments are different now, the disease is not, and she knows only too well what children are suffering: “When I was a kid,” she says, “I would say to my Mom during my frequent obstructions, ‘This is the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life.’ I wanted somebody to shoot me because it hurt so much. She also had Crohn’s, and she would say, ‘I’ve been through childbirth twice, and I’m telling you, it’s worse than childbirth.’ Some kids lose a ton of weight and are just emaciated. When I was in middle school, which is the toughest time to be a kid with all the insecurities, I was just not growing enough, so I was put on a system of tube feeding at night. I would put a tiny tube in my nose, down my throat, and into my belly. And then my parents would hook me up to a pump at night. This was done in the privacy of my own home, but it was still really traumatic. I had just started thinking about body image, and here I was gaining weight and feeling like an invalid.”
Finding a New “Normal”
“There were many times in my life as a young adult and teen when I thought, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever have a normal life,’” Lauren recalls. “‘Can I succeed in school with all these absences, and who’s going to want to marry me with all these issues, being in the hospital all the time, getting surgery, like you’re damaged goods?’ But I was determined to keep going and I’m doing OK now. I’ve got a husband and two kids and a career.”
Indeed, Lauren is doing better than OK. She met her husband, Christopher, when they were both students at Georgetown University Law Center. “Very early on in dating,” she says, “I told him about my Crohn’s, and shockingly, he wasn’t grossed out by it all. We both have very demanding jobs, and he’s a fantastic partner all the time, but especially when this nasty disease creeps up on me.”
Today, Lauren works for a large New York City law firm litigating commercial cases and advising corporate clients on crisis management. One of her projects was helping BP handle the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history. “What I deal with,” she says, “is how my clients are going to communicate about a crisis. It used to be that lawyers would say, ‘No comment, no comment, no comment,’ but with social media and a 24-hour news cycle you just can’t do that. So, I help them to navigate their communications to stakeholders without making the situation worse. Everyone tends to think that big corporations are filled with bad people, but most of the time the situation is an accident, and the people who work there are good, and we’re all just trying to make the situation better.”
Lauren and Christopher have two daughters, Dylan, 11, and Perry, 8. Both girls are following their mother’s example of tackling life head-on. Dylan is a lacrosse player who wants to play in college, while Perry favors ice hockey and dreams of playing for the Chicago Blackhawks. So far, neither girl is showing signs of Crohn’s.
A Personal Connection
Given Lauren’s history and understanding, it’s not surprising that she and Christopher decided to provide substantial support for the new Infusion & Dialysis Center. “As a kid,” she says, “there was a lot of pain for sure, but with a chronic illness like Crohn’s there is also the mental, psychological impact of feeling different, like there’s something wrong with you, like you’re not like the other kids. And that feeling is compounded when you have to be in a place that’s depressing. Hearing from current patients and parents about being in that kind of space is heartbreaking, because I know first-hand the lasting impacts there are on a child’s psyche to have to deal with that.”
There is also her personal connection to Jeffrey Hyams, MD, who is Director of the Center for Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and who treated Lauren through her childhood and has known her for the past 33 years. “I get emotional when I talk about this,” she says, “but you think back over your life, about the people who have had the most impact on you: your teachers, coaches, parents. Dr. Hyam’s has been one of the top four people in my life. His steady guidance and support; I just trusted him completely. That was one of the reasons I was able to learn to live with the disease in a way that let me keep going and not have it take over my life. He’s another reason we both want to support this project.”
For more information on the Infusion and Dialysis Center or to make a donation, please visit the campaign webpage.