By Johnny Jackson
Ricky Springer is "Racing for a Cause," to raise awareness of disorders of the immune system.
The 8-year-old McDonough child races in several regional go-cart racing circuits in cooperation with the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (Apfed), a non-profit organization created to raise awareness of, and support for, patients with eosinophil-associated gastrointestinal disorders.
The disorders render bodies unable to tolerate some food proteins. Through his Racing for a Cause campaign, started in 2009, Ricky, and his family, are attempting to educate the public, as well as medical physicians, about the lesser-known, and sometimes-painful disorders.
"No one should suffer and live in pain like I did,"said Ricky. Since birth, he has suffered from the colon disorder called Eosinophilic colitis, according to his mother, Julie Springer. She said her son's Eosinophilic colitis reactions are triggered by proteins in certain foods, and result in an immune system attack on his lower digestive track.
EGID may be hereditary, believes the 8-year-old's mother. Ricky's brother, 13-year-old Rusty Springer, Jr., was recently diagnosed with Eosinophilic esophagitis, an EGID that affects the esophagus. Julie Springer said she became increasingly aware of the teenager's Eosinophilic esophagitis through her dealings with Ricky's disorder.
Ricky appeared healthy at birth, she said, but began showing signs of the disorder within four days. "For the next 21 months, he would suffer with non-stop abdominal pain, and diarrhea," said his mother. She and her husband, Rusty Springer, Sr., consulted 14 pediatricians, two gastroenterologists, and two allergists, before finding a physician who knew what was wrong.
Julie Springer said she found the right physician by researching online. She also gained insight as to the root cause of Ricky's suffering. She said she located Apfed and was able to contact an EGID specialist, Dr. Philip Putnam of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Ohio.
The process took about 21 months, followed by months of the treatment, that involved removing all foods from Ricky's diet in order to allow the inflammation caused by the Eosinophilic colitis in his colon to calm. For the next year and a half, she fed her youngest son from a specialized, elemental formula, known as Elecare, which he drank, and injested, through a feeding tube in his stomach.
The Springer Family is among roughly 400 Apfed members nationwide, said Decatur resident, Wendy Book, who is president of Apfed. There are about 64 active Apfed members in the Southeast region, she added. Book said she went through a similar ordeal with her son.
She recalled searching for answers when her son was 4 months old. She said, though an estimated 1-in-1,200 people nationwide suffer from some form of EGID, many are not aware they have the disorders.
Book, who is also an adult cardiologist at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, said her son was misdiagnosed several times before she came to the root of his suffering two years later.
"It's very difficult," Book said. "Not knowing is a very hard place to be when you see your child suffering, and you don't know why. Knowing everything I know, and having the advantage of being connected to the [medical] community, it was still a challenge to be able to find a diagnosis," she said.
Book said her son, now 10 years old, was diagnosed at two-and- a-half years old with EGID. She said his case is more difficult to treat than most, partly because the EGID affects his upper intestine, stomach, and esophagus. Her son -- unlike Ricky, who was taken off his Elecare diet years ago -- continues to use an Elecare feeding tube.
Families are greatly affected by EGID and must learn to alter their way of spending time together, often by omitting common foods from their diets.
Rusty Jr., at 13, has begun adjusting to his newfound diet, which cuts out some of his favorite fast foods. "I miss pizza the most," said Rusty Jr.
Rusty Jr.'s diet has changed the make-up of the family meal, according to his mother. "We all eat the same things now," Julie Springer said. "It's much easier that way, because two of the four of us have to be on restricted diets."
This week, Rusty Jr., has joined Ricky, and their parents, in making appearances around Henry County to trumpet Apfed's National Eosinophil Awareness Week, which began on May 16, and lasts through Saturday. The Springer Family plans to visit several venues to help inform people about EGID.
They will be handing out pamphlets today, from 10 a.m.,until 5 p.m., at Express Oil Change at Willow Lane, off of Ga. Highway 81, in McDonough. Ricky will be at Truett's Grill, along Mt. Zion Blvd. in Morrow, on Thursday, from 5 to 8:30 p.m.; and at Candace Carpet One, along Ga. Highway 42, in McDonough, on Friday, from 2 to 5 p.m. He will also visit Outback Steakhouse, just off of Eagle's Landing Parkway, in Stockbridge, from 6 to 9 p.m., Friday.
Julie said Ricky plans to showcase his Racing for a Cause go-cart at Summit Racing in McDonough next week, May 24-30. Visit www.springerracing.com.