Anthony, Richelle’s son, was prescribed Accutane just before his freshman year of high school. “We tried everything to clear up his severe acne before I took him to the dermatologist," she says. “He never mentioned anything like Accutane inflammatory bowel disease and the only precaution was a blood test once a month to make sure it wasn’t affecting his liver.”
Richelle says that Anthony suffered through his skin peeling off, but after six months it cleared up. He was only allowed to take Accutane for six months anyway but Richelle thinks he was on the highest dosage.
“Anthony played a lot of football in high school and he was in good shape, but he complained about getting sick after eating lunch and at football practice he would throw up,” Richelle explains. “We changed his diet but he still had stomach pains and all of a sudden he would run to the bathroom. I believe we noticed depression around that same time. I just attributed it to teenage angst and girl problems. But I took him to the doctor and he was put on Paxil. He just took one pill--the drug left him like a zombie. I took the Paxil away but a few weeks later, he tried to commit suicide.
"It was December. I had just come home from the grocery store and Justin, his younger brother, walked into the garage just as Anthony was kicking the stool from under his feet--he was going to hang himself. I was two steps behind. I pushed Justin out of the way and lifted Anthony up so he couldn’t finish it. As I was holding him, my younger son called 911. They took him to University Medical Center in Fresno and had him in a padded room for about five hours. The doctors said he had a strong family base so we were able to take him home.”
(Accutane and depression has been thought by some people to be triggered by severe acne rather than Accutane. But it would appear that is not the case with Anthony. His skin had cleared up before the onset of depression.)
Anthony continued to have abdominal problems, which were exacerbated by bouts of diarrhea. Richelle took him to their family doctor several times but his problems were dismissed--they thought it was just something he ate.
“These symptoms went on throughout high school and his depression wasn’t treated either,” says Richelle. “We went to counseling (his father and I were divorced years ago), but Anthony didn’t really get better; it was more like he was coping, both with physical and psychological problems.
"But there had to be something wrong. We needed to get a referral from our family doctor because of our insurance policy. I wanted him to see a gastroenterologist but he never did get referred. In his junior year of high school he came home complaining of throwing up--it looked like grease. This time I took him to the hospital.
"He finally got some tests: he had a gallbladder problem. Anthony was almost 17 and I had never heard of a teenager having gallstones. They did emergency surgery but that never changed his throwing up and burping and stomach pains.
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"In California kids are allowed to be on their family insurance until they reach the age of 25 if they are going to college. It was too late to send Anthony to a gastroenterologist because we aren’t covered and we can’t afford to pay out-of-pocket. Our primary care doctor was old but he was also like family--he delivered my sons--so we didn’t really want to find another doctor. But we should have, many years ago. So my son was never diagnosed with bowel disease. Nobody can help him with his medical issues now but as a parent, I hope to get this story told and possibly help others."