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Image of Dr. Brian Bressler with an IBD Centre of BC patient
Dr. Brian Bressler with an IBD Centre of BC patient.
Patient Care

Overcoming the pain, and the shame, of living with a digestive disorder

St. Paul’s Hospital’s IBD Centre of BC is a lifeline and support network for people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

by Joanne Peters and Kris Wallace

Inflammatory bowel disease is complex, debilitating, and incurable. To make matters worse, it’s an invisible disability that nobody wants to talk about—but we’re changing that.

Drs. Brian Bressler and Greg Rosenfeld are gastroenterologists at St. Paul’s Hospital. They’re also the co-founders of the IBD Centre of BC: a lifeline and support network for people living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Bressler and Rosenfeld share a heartfelt compassion for people living with chronic disease and have dedicated their careers to improving the lives of the more than 25,000 British Columbians living with IBD.

“You can have IBD at any time in your life, but it’s most often acquired in your 20s and 30s,” Bressler says. “This is especially harsh because that’s precisely when many young people are advancing their education, settling into careers, and starting families. So along with the physical symptoms of IBD, its psychological impact can be a tremendous challenge during what should be the prime of your life.”

That’s one of the reasons they launched the IBD Centre of BC. They recognized the need for a comprehensive facility that would meld treatment, education and research. A place where patients could get holistic support from an entire team of IBD-trained specialists including gastroenterologists, nurses, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and world-class researchers.

Compassion and collaboration

“I have always taken the approach that if you work hard enough, you can overcome anything. I had to accept that colitis isn’t going to be like that. This is forever.”

– Emily, patient at the IBD Centre of BC

Studies show that when patients receive long-term, relationship-based care from their physicians, they have better health outcomes.

That’s one of the things that led Rosenfeld to become a gastroenterologist: he wanted to care for his patients for the long term. And the reality is, IBD is often a life-long condition.

The IBD Centre (housed just three blocks from St. Paul’s Hospital) provides integrated, innovative care for patients with digestive health concerns. One of its unique features is that it offers specialized subclinics for pregnancy, youth, surgery, and psychiatry, in addition to care from a specially-trained dietician and pharmacist. Patients work with an entire team to create their own individualized treatment plans so they can lead healthier, more fulfilling lives.

And while the Centre itself is located in Vancouver, the group leans heavily on telehealth to bring this life-changing care to patients right across BC.

Image of Dr. Brian Bressler and Dr. Greg Rosenfeld
Dr. Brian Bressler and Dr. Greg Rosenfeld.

Breaking new ground

Canada has one of the highest rates of IBD in the world. And it’s increasing. This has Bressler and Rosenfeld leading the charge for a model of care that extends to the new St. Paul’s Hospital and beyond. “One of our big picture goals is to scale what we’re doing for IBD so it can be used to bring relief to patients living with other chronic diseases across BC.”

To that end, Bressler and Rosenfeld are part of a team at St. Paul’s, including the hospital’s colorectal surgeons, who share a vision for a truly comprehensive Digestive Health Centre at the new St. Paul’s Hospital. The new centre would include care for all gastroenterology concerns: IBD, colon cancer screening, colorectal surgery, liver, nutrition counselling, and more. It’s a bold and innovative concept.

“This has never been done before,” says Bressler “It fits perfectly with our goals and with the mission of the new St. Paul’s Hospital to provide innovative, collaborative care that meets patients where they’re at and on their terms.”

Rosenfeld agrees. “It would become the first facility of its kind in Canada, and possibly the world, to integrate clinical care, education, and research specifically for patients with digestive diseases.”

“With specialists and allied health professionals all working out of the same centre, we could accomplish in two appointments what might currently take patients 5 or 10 appointments. And that would go a long way to helping these patients get their lives back – especially patients from outside the Lower Mainland.”

Although that vision is still some five years away, Bressler points out that the team is already laying the groundwork. “Yes, we’ll be able to work more seamlessly with other specialists and researchers at the new St. Paul’s, but we’re definitely doing that now,” he says.

The IBD Centre of BC, as a precursor to the fulsome Digestive Health Centre, is already contributing invaluable patient data to the field. Going forward, health care professionals will be able to analyze outcomes and perform quality improvement measures faster than ever before. This will further ensure each patient’s care reflects their individual needs and expectations.

“Harnessing modern tools like tech and data opens up a new frontier for research,” Rosenfeld says. The way he sees it, the impact of the IBD Centre of BC is almost immeasurable.

“We get to make a tangible difference in individual lives today. And, we get to make a difference in many, many lives in the future through research and education,” he says. “What a legacy!”

For now, IBD is chronic and incurable. But thanks to Rosenfeld, Bressler, and the gastroenterology team, the IBD Centre of BC is a place of hope and healing. “We’re filled with optimism for our IBD patients today and for our future patients at the Digestive Health Centre at the new St. Paul’s Hospital. This is an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Say Bressler and Rosenfeld: “Our patients’ resilience motivates and inspires us to pursue this work.” You can be part of this inspiring work, too. Your gift today at will support innovative care for British Columbians living with digestive health diseases.

Photography by Jeff Topham

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