December is more than a month away, but a 2006 Old Fort High School graduate is in training for a Dec. 4 Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas half-marathon in Nevada.
Greg Depp, now a resident of Portland, Ore., is enrolled in the Team Challenge program affiliated with Race for the Cure. Proceeds from the run are to benefit the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. Depp has committed to raising $3,600 in donations for the organization.
Depp is the son of Tina and Steve Depinet and Brian Depp of Tiffin. Tina said, seven years ago, she was not sure her son would even be alive at this point, much less run in a race. In 2003, Greg was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system, especially the small intestine and colon.
Corresponding by email, Greg said his illness became evident to him in 2002.
"I remember the summer before my freshman year of high school having my first symptoms of Crohn's," he said.
Statistics from CCFA estimate 1.4 million Americans have inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's, but many are too embarrassed to seek treatment. Depinet said she had never heard of the illness before it struck Greg. Once he was diagnosed, she realized he had been suffering with it for years. He was always smaller and more sickly than his school classmates. He played soccer and basketball at Old Fort, but he wasn't healthy enough to play much.
In spite of frequent discomfort, Greg rarely missed a day of high school, and he maintained high grades.
At times, pain would deprive Greg of sleep. Tina said she could hear him moving around at night, but he didn't want her to get up with him and be tired at work the next day. His parents thought he may be harboring a chronic virus of some kind.
By the time Greg was a high school junior, the disease had become so serious, he needed emergency surgery.
"When he started getting sick, we took him to the family doctor, and they just thought it was the flu. ... When I have a child that's on the floor rocking in pain, I knew it was more than the flu," Tina said.
After a CT scan, the results revealed a major blockage in Greg's bowel. Two days later, the young man was in surgery to remove the affected section of his colon. The ends of the organ were joined and stapled on a Friday morning.
Nearly a week went by, but Greg was not rebounding from the surgery. His mother, who was staying at the hospital with him, was concerned.
"He was in so much pain. I knew something was wrong," she said.
As it turned out, Tina's instincts were correct. The resection had torn and bacteria was leaking into Greg's tissues, poisoning him. Another emergency surgery took place to repair the tear. A third surgery was needed to insert a reversible ileostomy to drain the contents of the bowel into an exterior sack until the colon could heal completely.
Greg had the ileostomy for a year.
"That was pretty dramatic. We're talking about a 17-year-old kid, a junior in high school. ... I don't know how he did it," Tina said. "When I brought him home after six weeks in (the) Findlay hospital ... he weighed 62 pounds."
She had to give her son IVs every 12 hours. Greg was so frail, his mother was afraid to hug him. His body was so weak, he needed a wheelchair when he wasn't in bed. Tina's mother came from South Carolina to stay for two months to help with Greg's care while his parents worked.
Greg suffered from depression for a time. He worried about the classes he was missing at school. Although he had been a straight A student, he wondered whether his absence would require a later graduation date.
Tina went to the school principal to ask about his status and was told Greg would not have to worry about make-up work. Instead, he was to focus on recovering so that eventually, he could return to school.
"I was very fortunate that Old Fort was very flexible," Tina said. "And National Machinery was unbelievable. They let me come and go as I needed to."
When Greg was feeling well enough for company, Tina spoke to some of the other parents and invited the boys in Greg's class to come to their home to learn about what he was coping with. He showed the boys his incision, described the disease and explained the treatment.
"They were really supportive with him and they joked with him. He needed the joking and the ribbing. Every week, one of the boys would come to visit and drop off magazines," Tina said.
Eventually, Greg regained his strength and coordination.
"It was a slow process, but I eventually began eating normal amounts of food again after the main surgeries in 2005. I tried being as active as I could and, fortunately, I was strong enough to play baseball my senior year in 2006," he said.
Greg was able to complete his senior year of high school and graduate on time. In 2010, he received an associate's degree in web design and digital media from Terra Community College.
With limited job opportunities in northwest Ohio, he moved to the Portland area with relatives. Greg works full-time for Trader Joe's, a grocery store that handles organic foods. He also plays on a soccer team in Portland and has done some traveling.
"He takes preventive medication every day, just to help maintain his colon from getting inflamed. He knows what he can eat and what he can't eat, and he's a health buff," Tina said. "Today, you would not even think he ever was sick, unless he lifts his shirt. He has a scar from here all the way down."
"My outlook on life is quite different now. I try to live each day to its fullest and I want to accomplish and experience as many things as possible," Greg said.
Many people run or bike to stay fit in the West. In his new community, Greg learned about the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation and became a member. The organization conducts its
Race for the Cure as an annual fundraiser.
Greg signed up to run and informed his mother of his plans. He told her it was something he needed to do, especially on behalf of younger children who are suffering with Crohn's and related digestive diseases.
"Basically whenever you show signs of a chronic stomach ache or a reoccuring one, go get checked for Crohn's - especially if you have a family history of it. Many people go a long time with it and not realize it," he said. "So, the sooner it gets diagnosed, the better you will be in the long run. And also, more and more really young kids are getting diagnosed with it. So it's important to keep an eye on that as parents and guardians, to hopefully prevent a bad outbreak."
To contribute to Team Challenge, visit www.active.com/donate/NW11TCVEGASPO/tcGDepp or mail him at 15165 SW Sunrise Lane, Portland, OR 97224.