Student organization UF Gastro sheds light on gastrointestinal health disparities


Severe cramps. Vision coming out abundantly. Dehydration due to extreme blood loss.

These are just a few of the symptoms of a painful flare-up of ulcerative colitis, a gastrointestinal illness.

Ulcerative colitis and other similar illnesses can create particularly difficult health disparities for students. That’s why a UF student started a club called the Gastro Student Association.

“Being diagnosed with IBS or IBD or any other gastrointestinal illness hinders students and people in their daily lives, forcing them to deviate from normal life,” said Adam Bouhamdan, a 21 year old student. years in microbiology and cellular sciences. the president and founder of the club.

Bouhamdan said he wanted to remove the stigma surrounding gastrointestinal issues because it is a major contributor to health disparities. He suffered from undiagnosed symptoms of ulcerative colitis for three years before being officially diagnosed in January.

“People don’t know it, but with ulcerative colitis, you’re more prone to colon cancer or other diseases because it’s a constant inflammation of your body,” Bouhamdan said.

Bouhamdan relapsed during the summer while preparing for his dental admission exam. He experienced a two-month flare.

“It was a very troubling time and a setback,” Bouhamdan said.

Bouhamdan said the vicious cycle of debt involved in treating gastrointestinal illnesses also highlights the club’s importance. With resources already limited, students like Bouhamdan are forced to deal with hospital bills, treatment fees, and prescription drug payments.

Bouhamdan’s doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory drug that works to reduce the symptoms of ulcerative colitis. The brand name of this drug is called Lialda and it costs $ 700 per month.

“I told him, ‘I’m a student and I can’t afford it,’ said Bouhamdan, who is the son of a single mother.

The doctor then prescribed mesalamine, the generic version of the drug. Mesalamine costs $ 30 per month.

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Bouhamdan said this experience and others like it made him frustrated with the health system. Although his hospital says it can offer support to people who cannot afford to pay, Bouhamdan’s bills have piled up.

“It drives me crazy because it’s a bold lie,” Bouhamdan said.

Bouhamdan said he recently had to barter with his hospital to make a payment.

“It’s just a continuous cycle, and that’s often how health disparities work,” Bouhamdan said. “This is why people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds have poorer health, because they feel they cannot foot the bill, and this happens directly to students. ”

Bouhamdan said he created the Gastro Student Association Club as a refuge for those who struggled and faced these experiences. He hopes to start each meeting with a guest speaker, and hopes that a particular faculty member, Laura K. Guyer, will speak at an upcoming meeting.

Guyer is a professor at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and in 2011, she established the Health Disparities in Minor Society.

“What I see Adam doing and what I’ve seen other undergrads do, again you get it,” Guyer said. “You hear the message, you look around and you’re like, ‘We can fix this.’ ”

Hanna De La Garza, 20, a third-year journalism student with a minor in classical studies, serves as webmaster for the student organization, which held its first meeting in the fall at Union Reitz.

De La Garza has been a close friend of Bouhamdan’s since high school, and she said she hopes people see the club as a welcoming forum.

“I think some people have this misconception that it’s this intense support group where we talk about our gastrointestinal issues, but it’s very nice,” De La Garza said. “I just want to create a space for people to meet and feel comfortable.”

De La Garza said she is currently focusing on disseminating information about the organization through social media and community outreach.

Guyer said she was delighted that Bouhamdan had created a conversation forum to discuss health disparities among students.

“One of the things I like to tell students to do is change the world… it means change where you are,” Guyer said. “What if you get upset over an injustice and get educated, then start educating your friends and family?” This is how change happens.

Tara Carroll is a contributor to The Alligator.

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