University of South Florida

Eight-year-old grateful patient thankful to Dr. Racha Khalaf

What started as a simple fall led to a diagnosis the Weiler family wasn’t expecting – 8-year-old Patricia Weiler has Crohn’s Disease.

After the fall, Patricia’s mother, Annette, immediately took her to their dentist, who prescribed antibiotics but the swelling persisted. Patricia then saw her pediatrician who referred them to a maxillofacial surgeon who noticed abnormal tissue architecture. She performed a biopsy, which confirmed granulomatous inflammation consistent with Crohn’s disease.

She was then referred to Racha Khalaf, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and a pediatric gastroenterologist.  Dr. Khalaf and her team performed several tests, including a biopsy of Patricia’s wounds.  When the test revealed several key indicators, Dr. Khalaf confirmed that Patricia has Crohn’s Disease.

Racha Khalaf, MD, USF Health assistant professor and pediatric gastroenterologist.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.  It’s a progressive condition, meaning it can get worse over time if untreated, and an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the lining of the digestive tract often causing pain, diarrhea, weight loss and fever.   Treatment goals for Crohn’s include symptom mitigation, endoscopic improvement, and remission.

Patricia goes to the Tampa General Hospital Pediatric Day Hospital every six weeks to receive an intravenous treatment of Infliximab, commonly prescribed for a variety of autoimmune disorders.  Patricia said her favorite part of her visits are being able to play with TGH Valor Service Dogs, who are there to provide a comforting presence to children in the hospital setting, and helped young Patricia quell her fear of needles.

Dr. Khalaf and other physicians who have met Patricia commonly describe her a “wise beyond her years” in the wake of her diagnosis.  She understands this will be something that will be with her for the rest of her life and understands that she needs to make certain lifestyle changes including limiting her sun exposure, the amount of processed foods, and reducing the amount of dairy she consumes.  Patricia still participates in her favorite activities including soccer, ballet, and playing with her dog Mitch and sister Annabelle.

Patricia Weiler (right) and her sister Annabelle with their dog Mitch.

Patricia has been in remission for more than nine months and mother Annette is very thankful for all of the doctors who helped get her pointed in the right direction for care and getting her questions answered.  She is especially thankful to Dr. Khalaf and her team for finally bringing an end to the mystery of Patricia’s health.

“From the first moment I met the team, they were very assuring.  They said they would become ‘best friends’ throughout this process and that’s exactly how it has been,” Annette said.  “It was scary at first, but the reassurance is what really helped us through this.”

“It’s not a disability, it’s just something with my body that I have to keep an eye on,” Patricia said.  “I’m very thankful that we found a team that helps me and my family with my problems, and we did it before it got worse.”

Video and photos by Freddie Coleman

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