Student organization UF Gastro sheds light on gastrointestinal health disparities

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

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

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

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

Bouhamdan said he wants to eliminate the stigma around gastrointestinal issues because it’s a major contributor to health disparities. He suffered from symptoms of undiagnosed ulcerative colitis for three years before receiving his official diagnosis in January.

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

Bouhamdan relapsed over the summer while studying for his dental admission test. He had a two-month flare-up.

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

Bouhamdan said the vicious circle of debt involved in treating gastrointestinal ailments also highlights the importance of the club. With already limited resources, students like Bouhamdan are forced to cope with hospital bills, treatment costs and payment for prescription drugs.

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

“It drives me crazy, because it’s an outright lie,” Bouhamdan said.

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

“It’s just a continuous cycle, and that’s often how health disparities work,” Bouhamdan said. “That’s why people from lower socio-economic backgrounds have poorer health, because they feel they can’t pay the bill, and that trickles down to students.”

Bouhamdan said he created the Gastro Student Association Club as a haven for those who struggled and coped with these experiences. He hopes to start each meeting with a guest speaker and hopes that one faculty member in particular, 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 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, and you look around, and you say, ‘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 close friends with Bouhamdan 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 focused on spreading information about the organization through social media and community outreach.

Guyer said she’s delighted that Bouhamdan has created a conversation forum to discuss health disparities among college 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 fired up about an injustice and become educated, and then start educating your friends and family? This is how change happens.

Tara Carroll is a contributing writer for The Alligator.

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