By Amy Wadas

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — There’s a local support network in our area that helps patients battling inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s and colitis lead a normal life.

It’s the only program in Pittsburgh and one local man decided to tell his story of how he went from patient to volunteer.

It’s been a long road for Joseph Glassbrenner, 29, of Brighton Heights. He found out he had ulcerative colitis when he was just 20 years old in 2010.

“I started having difficult bowel movements. Some pain, a lot of frequency, a lot of urgency,” said Joseph Glassbrenner.

After months of tests and trying out different medications, things weren’t getting any better so Joseph had to have his colon removed. At one point, he stayed in the hospital for 27 days and was given a temporary ostomy for six months following surgery. Then, he went back in again for a second surgery to add what’s called a “J-Pouch.”

“They removed the large bowel and gave me a loop of small intestine where you can now hold your bowels and where you can remove them with less urgency,” said Joseph.

During this entire process, that’s when Joseph met co-founders of a program at UPMC called IBD Connect, Pam Levy and Randi Sigal.

“Most importantly, our mission is to provide hope,” said Pam Levy.

The lifelong friends decided to create the support group after watching their own family members battle the diseases.

“What we do is go into the rooms, we meet the families, we meet the patients, and we develop a relationship with them,” said Sigal.

Both Levy and Sigal said people suffering from Crohn’s and Colitis can have significant psychological impacts and worry if they’ll be able to lead a normal life.

IBD Connect helps patients and their families find comfort and guidance by connecting with volunteers who have had a similar experience. Right now, the program has 12 volunteers. Joseph is one of the volunteers. It’s the only program of its kind in Pittsburgh.

“I knew that I had a difficult journey and I knew through that journey I could be hope and inspiration to some people who were in that hospital bed in my situation, who were sick,” said Joseph.

Joseph calls his entire experience a blessing in disguise. That’s because he met his wife Taylor, a physician assistant, while he was in the hospital, and now the couple have a one year old son named Gabriel.

“I know that all things happen for a reason so the reason was very clear as to why I had to go through some suffering and pain,” said Joseph.

To learn more about IBD Connect, click here.