If twins are rumored to feel each other’s pain or anguish, then there’s been quite the exchange between the brothers the past three years.
Steve was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in July 2009, a condition that traditionally creates ulcers in the lining of the rectum and colon. The disease causes great discomfort – usually in the abdomen – with cramping and loose and bloody stool. It shuts down the body’s ability to absorb and store nutrients, causing headaches and extreme exhaustion — and, in the most severe cases, surgery is needed to remove the colon.
Steve, the son of Dr. William and Lori DeWitt of Grand Haven, first noticed some symptoms before his sophomore year of high school during junior varsity football tryouts.
“At first, I didn’t think it was anything serious or anything to worry about,” Steve admitted. “But when I started seeing blood, I told my mom. I figured something was wrong.”
A colonoscopy revealed Steve’s problem, and the prescribed solution was standard medication to ease his symptoms.
That calmed the problem for about a year; but as symptoms began to reappear and worsen, doctors turned to steroids to ease the flare-ups.
“When I had flare-ups, doctors would put me on steroids — and when it goes down, then I’d just switch back to the regular medication,” Steve said. “But when it kept getting worse and worse, I was just on steroids most of the time.”
When that solution had run its course and his symptoms persisted, Steve was faced with days of going to the bathroom 15-20 times per day, which obviously affected his sleeping at night.
“You become extremely dehydrated because of that, and I got really bad headaches,” he said. “You lose all of your muscle and all of your strength.”
Ulcerative colitis often is at its worst when a person is under a high-amount of stress, and Steve would notice the symptoms would worsen after participating in one of his true passions — athletics.
“It triggers during stressful times,” he said, “like when I’m getting ready to prepare for any kind of sports competition.
”Despite that concern, the 6-foot-3-inch DeWitt enjoyed a very productive junior track season last spring, where he excelled on the Bucs’ 800-meter relay team and was competitive with James in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles.
“He had a great season,” said Bucs’ track coach Andy Mousseau. “We were really expecting him to come back this year and build on what he accomplished — but obviously, with what he went through during the summer, the concern now is getting him healthy.”
When a newly prescribed drug failed to halt Steve’s problem, his condition reached an all-time low.
“After about three visits to the hospital, they put me on a new medication called Remicade,” he said. “It’s been shown to work, and it did work, but it takes out your immune system as a side effect. It only worked for a couple of months, then I was back where I started.”
With Steve in the battle for the back-up quarterback position for Grand Haven, the last thing he wanted to deal with was another hospital stay.
“I really don’t like going to the hospital,” he said. “I fought it off for about two weeks — but after awhile, I just couldn’t do anything. They’d take my blood and it was like syrup coming out because I was so dehydrated.”
“It was the worst for him during football season,” said James. “That was the big point where everything was going down and he got sick and couldn’t play anymore. He basically was in pain every time he tried to throw the ball.”
With no reliable medication, Steve developed infections in his colon and spent nearly four weeks in the hospital. His weight dropped nearly 35 pounds after each infection.
“We didn’t know it at the time, but we could have lost him both times,” said his father, William. “It was painful to see him in that kind of shape.”
“The toughest part was just not being able to do what I used to do,” Steve said. “All the time and effort I’ve put into sports and to have it all taken away, it was really unfortunate.”
Steve ended up not only missing football practice, but also several weeks of his senior year of high school.
“I went to school until (early November),” he said. “I got to go to Homecoming at least.”
Steve said his friends and family were extremely supportive during his ordeal, as many stayed by his side at night in his hospital room. One visit especially stood out— Grand Haven coach Mike Farley entered his room with what would have been Steve’s No. 7 home varsity jersey.
James also tried to do his part to keep his brother’s spirits high.
“James was always there for me,” Steve said. “He’d get me stuff or do things for me. Sometimes he’d even pick me off the couch and carry me across the room when I was too lazy to move.”
With treatment options running out, the doctors turned to a last straw — surgery.
“After I got through the (final) infection, (the doctors) said we can go through with this again or we can do surgery,” he recalled. “At that point, I was so tired of that lifestyle, so I chose surgery.”
Steve has gone through one of a series of three surgeries. The first, in January, involved the removal of his colon and the attachment of a colostomy bag.
“We found out he had a diseased colon and no medicine would have helped him,” William said.
The second procedure, in which doctors will take the small intestine and make a new large intestine pouch to hold his waste, is scheduled for June. The final procedure, which includes the removal of the colostomy bag, will be six weeks later.
If there are no complications from the surgeries, Steve said there’s a small chance he could return to compete in track during the final weeks of the season.
“My biggest thing is I just want this all to be done by the time I’m ready to go to college,” Steve said, who will attend Michigan State University, along with James.
“He’s told me, ‘Dad, I really want to get out there, but I got to get my legs stronger,’” William said. “He lost all that strength, that spring in his legs.”
“I’ve been running a little bit,” Steve added. “I’m just trying to get better.”
In the meantime, Steve has been James’ biggest supporter. His twin is Grand Haven’s school record-holder in the hurdles, and has a better-than-average chance at winning a state title in the 110-meter hurdles this season. Next season, he’ll continue to compete on MSU’s track team.
“With his make-up and his talent, if he continues to work hard at it, he has a chance to be a very good hurdler at the college level,” Mousseau said.
“It’s really fun to watch him, because he’s obviously really good,” Steve said with a grin. “But it makes me a little sad that I can’t do it anymore.”
If DeWitt can take anything away from the forgettable past three years, is that he has a lot to look forward to in the near future. There is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s changed me as a person. I’ve started to look at life a lot differently now,” he said. “Because when you’re feeling good, it’s amazing. I just can’t wait to get back to that.”