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Man undergoing treatment of rare genetic condition graduates college 2,500 miles away from home

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Posted at 10:48 PM, Jun 10, 2021

CINCINNATI — A young man’s search for answers to his ongoing health problems brought him from South America to Cincinnati and helped him reach a major life milestone far from home.

Juan Patino moved to the Tri-State from Colombia last year to receive medical treatment at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He’s had difficulty eating and keeping food down since childhood, and the doctors in his native country didn't know how to help.

“I remember the first doctor – he didn’t know what was going on,” he said.

He even tried seeking treatment from as far away as Spain.

“I wasn’t responding to the medication that they were giving me,” he said. “I was weak with the medication. It was a really hard medication.”

Patino did some research and found that some of the world’s leading doctors for his medical challenges were in Cincinnati. After he met with the team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, they told him he has a rare disease called eosinophilic gastritis. The disorder stems from eosinophils — a type of white blood cells — accumulating in Patino’s gastrointestinal tract.

Although he's in his early 20s and outside the typical age range for a patient at Children's, Patino knew the doctors in Cincinnati were his best chance at real help. He packed up everything and moved more than 2,500 miles from his home in Cali, Colombia, to Cincinnati in January 2020.

Dr. Mark Rothenberg, who leads the Center for Eosinophilic Disorders at Children’s Hospital, helped enroll Patino in a clinical trial where he receives monthly injections of an asthma medication to help treat his condition.

“We think that the eosinophils are causing most of his problems, and we’ve been able to use a really, very high degree of precision therapy to help him out,” Rothenburg said.

The treatment appears successful so far.

“After having maybe two or three episodes every single day, now I can eat normally,” Patino said.

Despite leaving his family behind in Colombia, Patino continued his education while fighting his disease. He became the first in his family to graduate from college when he got his degree from Xavier University in May.

“I really look at him as a very brave man and a smart young man,” Rothenberg said. “He graduated college and he did a lot of this on his own, nearly all of it.”

Patino’s treatment is in a phase 3 study. Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital said they hope it will receive FDA approval down the line.

The Center for Eosinophilic Disorders at Children’s Hospital doesn’t turn people away if they aren’t kids. Rothenburg said that specific departments work with all ages, even some senior citizens, who have the same disorder.