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Teen diagnosed self with Crohn's disease

June 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Doctors couldn't figure out why a Washington state teen was ill. But armed with a microscope and her own tissue samples, the student solved the mystery.Finding the secret to Jessica Terry's sickness wasn't easy. In fact, pathologists missed it.

"I was very sick. I missed almost half of middle school," said Jessica.

Jessica suffered from fevers, vomiting, anemia and abdominal pain that sometimes dropped her to her knees. But high school homework changed her life.

It happened in histology class at Eastside Catholic High school. The assignment was to study tissue diseases. Jessica's group chose the intestines because of her undiagnosed problems.

"There were just no answers anywhere. And once they diagnosed me with irritable bowel or colitis it was kind of an answer," said Jessica. "But we knew it was worse than that because I was always very sick."

Jessica asked her pathologist for her own slides. She studied them for days, and then she spotted something.

"All of a sudden Jess goes, 'I think I found something.' I was like, 'What?' And she says, 'Miss Welch, Miss Welch, come over here,'" said Mary Margaret Welch, Jessica's teacher. "So, kind of look under the scope, and she says, 'I think it's a granuloma.'"

Granuloma are dark centered cells, which are indicators of Crohn's disease. The autoimmune disease attacks digestive cells and prevents the absorption of nutrients.

"In 24 hours all of a sudden, Jessica has a confirmation from her physician," said Welch.

"It's weird, I had to solve my own medical problem," said Jessica.

Jessica is now taking the lessons she learned and turning them into a children's book to help families understand Crohn's disease. She also wants to go to medical school.

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