Something as simple as having and afternoon snack was impossible for Kara Wooldridge a year and a half ago.
“When we were first concerned about Kara, she was just complaining about difficulty swallowing,” explained Stormy Wooldridge, Kara’s mom.
After an endoscopy procedure, Kara was diagnosed with celiac disease and eosinophilic esophagitis, or EoE, an inflammatory condition in which the wall of the esophagus becomes filled with large numbers of white blood cells called eosinophils. Dr. Hart likens it to having eczema inside your esophagus.
“The eczema is like a really bad rash that you might have like poison oak or poison ivy on your skin, only it is inside your esophagus," he explained. "It is painful and it causes a real abnormal function to the esophagus.”
As Kara went through half a dozen procedures to treat her EoE, she lost more than 30 pounds and longed to feel like a normal kid again.
“It was just really hard a lot of the times," she said. "I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I couldn’t be a regular kid.”
Today Kara is back to normal, having afternoon snacks in the kitchen with her mom and playing on her school volleyball team. But the story does not stop with the successful treatment of a patient like Kara.
When Mark Tenzer, then a student at Patrick Henry High School in Roanoke, was looking for a project to work on in Carilion's Basic Science Lab, he became intrigued by Dr. Hart's work with EoE. He began working with Dr. Hart and came up with an algorithm that would allow physicians to diagnose patients with EoE without the use of an endoscopy.
“Before this goes to clinical applications, we are going to have to run through more and more trials," said Mark. "Right now, in our 23 participants we are classifying them all correctly using the algorithm, without looking at endoscopy or tissue results.”
Ultimately, Dr. Hart and Mark hope that this research will help physicians figure out what is causing EoE and the best way to prevent it.
“Our goal is not to have to treat anybody," said Dr. Hart. "Our goal would be to identify the cause, eliminate the cause and patients would be fine."
For Kara's mom, Stormy, knowing that research like this is going on at Carilion means that other families won't have to go through what they went through.