Diagnosing Fructose Intolerance: Morgan’s Story
What looked like irritable bowel syndrome was actually more complex. How a visit to U-M helped a Michigan student thrive.
Morgan Blenkhorn missed high school several times because of symptoms that doctors said were related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
“Anything I would eat, I would get sick,” she says. “I was nauseous; I would have headaches, stomachaches; I had diarrhea, and I was just ill all day, every day.”
Morgan’s symptoms started a few months after a severe food poisoning incident in 2010 during her junior year of high school. She endured pain, particularly while dancing and playing soccer. She tried apples and honey for relief, but they only made her symptoms worse.
“It was really hard having to come home from school being sick all the time, waking up sick, and trying to go to school and act like everything was fine,” she says.
A chance meeting bears fruit
Over the next three years, several doctors told her she was exhibiting IBS symptoms and gave her probiotics for treatment.
But a chance meeting on an airplane between her father and gastroenterologist William Chey, M.D., would lead to a series of interviews and tests, and a final diagnosis from the University of Michigan’s gastroenterology and dietitian team.
Her first visit to the University of Michigan was in 2013 during the fall of her sophomore year of college. She had several blood tests before meeting with Chey. Upon her first appointment, she was promptly told what to expect: a fructose test, a lactose test, more blood tests and an endoscopy.
According to Morgan, Chey went above and beyond preliminary tests to find the root of the problem. What changed it all, she says, was the fructose test, which consisted of fructose mixture, water and a breath test. A few weeks after her appointment, Chey told Morgan and her family the diagnosis: fructose intolerance.
“We all cried,” Morgan says.
This experience was unlike any other for Morgan. The team’s gastroenterologists were briefed on her case and knew exactly how to address her issues. Her dietitian mapped out a zero-fructose eating plan that catered to her vegetarian diet and her love for veggies, pasta and curry.
“They listened to my specific wants, not just me as a patient but me as Morgan,” she says.
Since her diagnosis, Morgan plans out her meals and has full control of her symptoms. She continues to dance and play sports. Last summer, she was even able to study abroad in the Netherlands and travel in Europe.
“It was beautiful, life-changing, something I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do before because I couldn’t sit in a car for two hours without having to pull over,” she says. “Biking 10 miles to work and backpacking alone through Germany was something I thought I’d never be able to do because I was so sick.”
Morgan is finishing up her fourth year at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, with another year left to complete her special education degree. She still checks in with Chey every once in a while. For now, she hopes to be accepted into Grand Valley’s Consortium for Overseas Student Teaching program in Ireland this summer.
Photo credit: Edda Pacifico