Crohn’s and Colitis Center Celebrates 10-Year Milestone

Thirty-five-year-old Kristina Adler of Miami has a pretty good idea of what patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) need to get the best care possible. After all, she has battled IBD since she was 10.

IBD is actually two conditions, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, both characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

Dr. Maria Abreu (center) with Kristina Adler (left) and Ana Adler (right
Dr. Maria Abreu (center) with longtime patient Kristina Adler (left) and Kristina’s mother, Ana Adler (right).

“When I reached a certain age,” Adler said, “my care was transitioned to a physician who saw adult patients, and that’s how I came to be treated by Dr. Maria Abreu at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Together, with her and my parents, we realized there was a void in the Miami community and really no one place an IBD patient could go to get their medical needs met and that’s how we started the process of fundraising to build a center dedicated solely to IBD.”

The Generosity Behind a Center of Excellence

On December 5, close to 100 people gathered to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center (CCC) at the Miller School with a special celebration.

“The notion of being able to offer a special place for people dedicated to Crohn’s and colitis would not exist without philanthropy and people such as Kristina and her parents, Guido and Ana,” said Maria Abreu, M.D., Miller School professor of medicine, CCC’s director and the Martin Kalser Chair in Gastroenterology, as she thanked those gathered for the event.

Dr. Abreu’s vision came to fruition due to the generiosity of the Adlers and others. The Sussman family gave a gift that enabled a the groundbreaking and support from the Micky and Madeline Arison Family Foundation and Joanne Trempala undergirded CCC’s innovative research.

During the celebration, donor Gary Scharf of Boca Raton shared how the center changed his family’s life when his son, Aaron, began treatment under Dr. Abreu after contrating ulcerative colitis at 13.

From left to right, Nirma and Alicio Pina, Dr. Abreu, and Gary and Bonnie Scharf
Dr. Abreu (center), with Crohn’s and Colitis Center supporters Nirma and Alicio Piña (left) and Gary and Bonnie Scharf (right).

“She saved his life,” said Scharf. “He hasn’t had a bad day in the 10 years we’ve been blessed to have her take care of our family. He’s 30 years old now and living his best life in Los Angeles.”

Scharf and his wife, Bonnie, cemented their gratitude by announcing they would match any gift made during the event up to $20,000. Alicio and Nirma Pina, long-time supporters of Dr. Abreu’s work, took up the challenge to increase the impact of the funds raised.

A Leader in Crohn’s and Colitis Treatment and Research

Since its inception, the center has grown to include five physicians, two nurse practitioners, four trained fellows, more than 70,000 patient visits, nearly 30,000 infusion treatments, and close to 4,000 participants in research studies.

“The CCC and its amazing providers led by Dr. Abreu have brought world-class care to the region by translating the latest discoveries into the most up-to-date treatments in the clinics,” said Roy Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Medicine, the Kathleen & Stanley Glaser Distinguished Chair in Medicine, and the Rabbi Morris I. Esformes Endowed Chair in Medicine and Endocrinology at the Miller School. “There is no question that South Florida is a true leader in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease.”

Not only is the center a leader in treatment, but it is backed by a research operation that has been started and supported by philanthropy. Even though much of the research is also supported by grants and government funding, the seed money to get high-risk, high-reward research comes from generous donors.

Philanthropy’s Impact on IBD Research

“With the help of philanthropy, we created a biobank of 3,800 patients who donated their blood and tissue for genetic and immunologic studies that led us to not only get additional grants, but to make discoveries that will help us identify personalized therapies,” explains Dr. Abreu. “One basic science project supported entirely by philanthropy uses patient tissues to identify unique bacteria that may be causing IBD. We’ve developed new tools to identify these bacteria and, once we do, we can target them for treatment.”

There has been an increase in treatment options for patients with three new medications approved for IBD in just the past year. And it couldn’t come too soon. There is currently an epidemic of IBD in Florida centered around immigrants from other countries, especially Latin America. Experts believe the change to an American diet is leading to the problem.

At CCC, physicians treat patients and conduct cutting-edge research on the disease.

“There is no reason for anyone to ever leave South Florida for IBD treatment,” says Dr. Abreu. “This center is a lifeline for our patients, we take care of them as if they are family. These are chronic illnesses, and these patients need not only the highest level of medical care, but the highest level of medical knowledge to push the envelope on treatment strategies.”

Kristina Adler wholeheartedly agrees.

“It’s nice to go to a place that’s just for your needs and the staff does nothing but IBD all day,” she said. “They know the nature of your condition inside and out. Dr. Weiss once said to me, ‘You don’t look like a patient.’ And I said, ‘That’s the whole idea.’”

Support the Crohn’s and Colitis Center

For more information on how you can support the mission of the Crohn’s and Colitis Center, email Shelly Friedman.

Tags: colitis, Crohn's and Colitis Center, Crohn's disease, Dr. Maria Abreu, IBD