Quest for Healing Yields New Hope

Juan Patino, age 24, is a singular young man who has already come a long way in life—both literally and figuratively.

Last year, the Colombia native traveled more than 2,500 miles from his hometown of Cali to Cincinnati, Ohio, in search of answers. Fortunately, he found what he was looking for at Cincinnati Children’s Center for Eosinophilic Disorders.

“I’ve had GI tract issues since I was a child, especially in the last 8 years,” says Patino.

These issues include difficulty swallowing, keeping food down and frequent trips to the bathroom. He endured significant pain from food impaction and suffered from severe malnutrition. His adult weight hovered at just above 99 lbs.

Visits to various local doctors through the years led to several misdiagnoses and a barrage of medications, which didn’t work. In 2016, he was told he had leukemia (not true). That same year, he traveled to Madrid, Spain, seeking help.

“Some of the doctors there thought I had eosinophilic syndrome. Others said it was eosinophilic gastroenteritis,” says Patino. “They told me I needed an esophagus transplant and gave me medicine that made me weak. I was very, very confused.”

Somehow, in spite of his health struggles, Patino managed to complete high school and go to college in Cali, where he studied three years of law and minored in political science.

But in March 2019, everything came to a halt.

“I had a very bad episode, and I had to be hospitalized,” he explains. “I realized then that I needed to find a new solution. So I started looking online for information about eosinophilic disorders and what was going on in the world concerning them, especially in the United States. Everything led me to Cincinnati Children’s.”

And to Marc Rothenberg, MD, director of the Cincinnati Center for Eosinophilic Disorders (CCED).

“I started looking online for information about eosinophilic disorders.... Everything led me to Cincinnati Children’s.”

(Pictured) Juan Patino with his parents at his graduation from Xavier University in May.

“It’s been especially challenging with the pandemic, but my health is recovering to a level I never thought possible.”

Rothenberg and his team established the CCED about 20 years ago with the goal of better understanding and treating eosinophilic diseases, which are rare, affecting fewer than 200,000 people in the U.S.

Says Rothenberg, “Eosinophils are white blood cells that should normally be found in the blood. However, in patients like Juan, the eosinophils accumulate at high levels in different tissues, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract, where they cause a lot of damage, particularly inflammation. Our center is focused on explaining the basic mechanisms of eosinophilic disease, as well as understanding why people develop the disease and how we can translate scientific discoveries to develop new strategies for treatment.”

Patino remembers finding Rothenberg’s profile on the CCED site and scrolling down to his email address listed at the bottom.

“I made up my mind to write to him,” says Patino. “I told him my whole life story. I was completely surprised in the following days to get an answer. He was so kind to share so much information. He gave me hope—a lot of hope.”

Rothenberg connected Patino with other members of his team who could help arrange his visit to the center.

“It took several months. I had to have my medical exam records translated into English,” Patino says.

In November 2019, Patino met with Rothenberg and his team for the first time at a conference about eosinophilic disorders. He says, “After the conference, they ran some tests on me to confirm that I had the disease, and I was able to enroll in a clinical trial, where I would get good medical and nutritional care.”

The clinical trial is a single-site study, based on 20 years of research at Cincinnati Children’s, that tests the impact of a biologic antibody on eosinophilic disease. Rothenberg is the principal investigator.

In January 2020, Patino moved from Colombia to Cincinnati. He started treatment in February, which consisted of monthly injections of benralizumab, an FDA-approved compound that targets eosinophils and has been used to treat eosinophilic asthma. Since then, he has not experienced any food impaction at all, and he has been able to eat normally.

“Before starting this treatment, my body wasn’t absorbing the nutrients from food. But now I have gained 15 kilos (a little over 33 lbs.)” says Patino. Pointing to his esophagus, he adds, “I used to have this huge column of pain whenever I ate something, and I’d have to lie in bed for six or seven hours waiting for it to go away. The pain has disappeared. It is incredible!”

While participating in the study, Patino managed to finish his schooling and graduate from Xavier University in May with a political science degree. He is the first in his family to achieve this educational milestone and is starting work on his MBA this fall.

Says Rothenberg, “Besides his medical challenges, Juan also faced cultural and language barriers. But he is a brave and smart young man who was determined to make a life change, to travel far from his home and family to advance his life and his health. He is thriving in this clinical trial, which uses precision therapy to eliminate eosinophils from his body. It’s innovation at the highest level.”

The CCED sees patients from around the US, and a handful of countries each year.

“Our research studies span all age groups, from infants to senior citizens,” says Rothenberg. “Our patients aren’t just numbers in a clinical trial. We have doctors, nurses and social workers who care for them holistically. The CCED is a one-of-a-kind center, and we are having a global impact.”

Patino is feeling that impact.

“I’ve been very lucky because I found really nice people here who have helped me a lot,” he says. “It’s been especially challenging with the pandemic, but my health is recovering to a level I never thought possible. Dr. Rothenberg and his team are incredible human beings who have supported me in getting healthy. I’m happy and thankful and really looking forward to the future.”

Patino with Marc Rothenberg, MD.

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