When Living Normally is Winning: Tackling Severe Digestive Disorders

Braden Plaa was 14 years old and near death when he arrived at Valley Children’s in 2013.

“His heart rate was 160 and his organs were shutting down,” said his mother, Brooke Plaa. “He weighed about 76 pounds.”

Brooke took Braden to his doctor and his blood work revealed severe anemia. His doctor then made an urgent call to Valley Children’s. Braden needed blood and iron transfusions. He spent the next eight days undergoing tests and getting life-saving treatment, including a colonoscopy, endoscopy and MRI.

Dr. Clifton Huang, a Valley Children’s gastroenterologist, diagnosed Braden with Crohn’s disease. A severe inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s causes abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea and weight loss. Growth failure occurs in about half the children with IBD. Other symptoms include fevers, anemia, joint pain, skeletal problems and sexual maturity delays.

Under Dr. Huang’s leadership, Valley Children’s offers a specialized pediatric clinic for Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis, another form of IBD. A medical and counseling team monitors these devastating illnesses, providing state-of-the-art treatment ranging from immuno-suppression drugs to diet options.

The fight continues

Braden did gain weight back, but his fight wasn’t over. Within 18 months of diagnosis, his weight again plummeted to 84 pounds and his temperature soared to 104 degrees.

Braden’s illness again turned life-threatening and Dr. Huang prescribed enteral therapy. Without it, he said, Braden could die. Now, each night, Braden inserts a small tube up his nose, down his esophagus and into his stomach to ingest a protein drink.

His weight bounced back and his life became more normal.

“Valley Children’s has given Braden back his life,” said Brooke. “He gained weight to the point where he is now 160 pounds.”

Braden played football and baseball in high school last year and earned straight A’s. He now attends Stanislaus State University, works and coaches football at a Modesto high school. “Because Dr. Huang did not give up on him, Braden has a wonderful life and an amazing future to look forward to,” Brooke said.

Leader in digestive diseases research

Valley Children’s is in the ImproveCareNow Registry, which evaluates therapies for pediatric patients with IBD. The Hospital’s gastroenterology specialists collaborate with 94 pediatric hospitals across the nation to study treatment trends and how those plans affect clinical outcomes.

Valley Children’s, recognized in 2017 by U.S. News & World Report as among the top 50 children’s hospitals for gastroenterology, has shown significant improvement in remission for its 350 IBD patients. Since beginning new treatments in 2014, remission rates jumped from 62 to 85 percent along with a drop in hospitalization, Dr. Huang said.

“Our research includes epidemiological studies, combination treatments and randomized double-blind trials,” said Dr. Huang. “This type of research is causing us to get noticed.”