Skin deep

SU sophomore Alicia Aiello only grew stronger after being diagnosed with a disease that attacked her intestines and colon.

It was summertime. I was 14 years old, and my life was about to change forever.

Instead of doing normal summertime things, like riding a bike or going swimming, I had crippling stomach pains. After a week, the first blast of pain subsided, only to come back with a vengeance.

I stopped eating — anything I ate increased the pain — and lost 10 pounds. My mom took me to my doctor, who said I was infected with Giardia Iamblia, a germ often found in public pools. That was wrong.

Bedridden for another week, shedding more weight and getting sicker, I went to the hospital, weak, dehydrated and suffering from immense blood loss.

After doctors took blood, did a colonoscopy and administered many uncomfortable tests, they finally determined the source of the mounting problems. I was diagnosed with a disease called ulcerative colitis — an inflammatory bowel disease that attacks the intestines and colon, causing deep ulcers and open sores. The disease had been developing since I was very young.

I was put on a liquid diet and hooked up to an IV that gave me every nutrient I needed to stay alive. I had no strength. I couldn’t walk, so I crawled.

Photo: Andrew Burton
SU sophomore Alicia Aiello has battled ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that attacks the intestines and colon, since age 14.

I thought I was dying and so did my family.

I had to have another colonoscopy, but instead of waking up after a half hour, I awoke seven hours later with a colostomy bag at my side. My colon had been perforated and was releasing toxins into my body it, so the doctor took it out.

Having my colon removed turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I could eat more of what I wanted without feeling sick. I began to gain weight and feel healthier.

I was discharged from the hospital for the longest period of time since my sickness began, and I was able to start home schooling to catch up with my classmates.

Even though the illness seemed determined to take over my body, I was still in control of my mind. I didn’t let the disease dictate my attitude. Optimism carried me through those hard times — mind over matter. 

Since the day I was first diagnosed, I have spent four years dealing with immeasurable numbers of pills, IVs, needles and specialists. Mine was a unique case, and there was a lot of trial and error, pain and frustration. 

Today, 15 surgeries later, I am “healthy,” but my definition of that word has changed dramatically. Before the ulcerative colitis, being healthy meant I could do what I felt like doing and eat what I felt like eating, without limitations. Now being healthy means waking up, taking my pills, eating less of what I want and figuring out the best way to get by most days.

I am currently off medication and taking my life one day at a time. Although I’m still adjusting to my new routine and am not back to my old self quite yet, I have come a long way since the start of it all.

Ulcerative colitis has changed my outlook on life. I try not to take anything for granted because it all can be lost with one trip to the hospital. In a strange way, I am thankful for my illness.

Each moment I was sick defined who I am today: A stronger person.

you've got what it takes, mind over matter

You can do it, and proved you can, mind over matter is what I have always said. I've had crohn's since age 12, had surgery, never let it stop me or felt sorry for myslef. There are always people who have it worse off. Just turn on the news! Continue to look to the bright side of life and go after what you want out of life. Everyday of life is a gift, I am a wife, a mom and if I don't feel good I still go to work everyday and love to laugh everyday. Have a wonderful holiday season, and keep studying hard and smile often.

surround yourself with the right support

I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease (similar to colitis) over 20 years ago. I wholeheartedly commend you for the way you're handling your illness. You can let it rule your life or you can deal with it the best you can and get on with living your life. It's not easy - there are days that staying in bed is the right answer. Your illness is invisible to most people. Find people that you can talk to about even the nastiest aspects, people that get it when you're just worn out from dealing with it, and people to kick you in the pants when you're feeling sorry for yourself. Best of luck!

Thank you

What an inspiration you are! Thank you for sharing your story. You are amazing.


Your story is so heartwarming and courageous and gives hope to many others. As a Professor at Syracuse and former Vice Chancellor who studies health care issues, I can tell you that you have it made. You know how to manage your disease. You are right, you are stronger and this strength will help you be incredibly successful in life. What a winning combo with a Newhouse degree.

It just so happens that one of Syracuse's most proud alums is one of the most famous GI specialists in the world and he is a real authority on colitis. I just know that he will love your story and root you on, and vice versa. I will send it to him.

you are a strong woman

you are a strong woman alicia. ive known u the whole time u had this disease and even though we didnt hangout or anything, i could tell u were in pain from our conversations and i could tell u were gonna give this thing every ounce of energy u could to beat it. im proud of u n i hope ur story touches many people and inspires people to live their lives because u never kno what is gonna happen.

Post new comment

* Field must be completed for your comment to appear on The NewsHouse
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.