Ann Weber - University of Manitoba
Ann took her first steps into the research community at 14 years old when she became one of 20 semi-finalists at Google Science Fair. Since then, Ann received many awards and scholarships, including the Isbister Scholarship for a top-five GPA in the Faculty of Science at the University of Manitoba and the NSERC University Undergraduate Research Award.
Early in her undergraduate career, Ann experienced months of symptoms affecting every facet of her life and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Shortly after, her mother was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and these events evolved her vision towards that of medicine.
During this time, Ann became a Medical First Responder (MFR) with St. John Ambulance and joined their executive team to interview and train prospective MFRs. Now entering her third year of medical school, the aspiring physician demonstrates leadership as a Community Outreach Representative on behalf of the Rady College of Medicine, a class representative for Women in Medicine, and liaises for the Undergraduate Medical Education Support Team. She has taken action to help fellow Canadians navigate COVID-19 through screening, and provincial contact tracing. As a proud advocate for mental health and wellness, she and her team also established the Manitoba Student Senior Isolation Prevention Partnership. Ann also provides an open ear to the IBD community as a Gutsy Peer Support Mentor.
Carlie Thompson - Concordia University
Carlie leaped into the volunteer sector when she was nine years old as she began volunteering with the SPCA, which led her to receive the BC SPCA Award of Merit. Another highlight of Carlie’s commitment to giving back to the community is her involvement with the Kamloops Youth Hybrid Club and Rotary. As vice-president, you could find Carlie running meetings, managing events, and acting as a liaison. She also completed a Rotary Youth Exchange in Japan. Carlie continues to demonstrate leadership as she facilitated the 2019 and 2020 Kamloops Gutsy Walk and advocates for washroom access.
When she was 18 years old, Carlie received the diagnosis of ulcerative colitis only five days before flying across the country to turn her love for animals into a career, as her goal was to complete a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s degree in zoology. While Carlie took her first step towards achieving her dream, she temporarily withdrew from the program to get her health under control. Carlie shares learning to accept the diagnosis and manage the symptoms at the age of 18 was demanding, but made her stronger. By the age of 19, she decided she would thrive in spite of living with colitis. Now in her 20th year, she is on the road to remission and ready to embrace life as an independent and ambitious young adult.
David Pugh - York University
Diagnosed at the beginning of high school, David found his first two years living with ulcerative colitis particularly challenging, both physically and mentally. Experiencing mental health issues, David wrote and produced the play ‘Saving Copetown’ as a way to not only express and cope with his personal hardships, but also show others with similar struggles that they are not alone. His community developed a deep connection with the storyline, which explicitly addressed mental illness and the associated stigma, as it won Best Play at the National Theatre School Festival.
Throughout high school, David showed interest in pursuing a degree in psychology as he wrote a biweekly column, ‘Mental Health Mustangs’, for his school’s newspaper to spark conversations and provide support for his peers in their mental health journeys.
Keen on helping others, David has volunteered over 800 hours with 14 organizations. He mentors fellow teens taking on IBD by sharing his story and generates IBD awareness through keynote presentations. Even more, David infused his differently abled perspective within the Accessibility Initiative he led at his local library.
David is also very passionate about history. He champions the War Portraits Project at Brantford Collegiate Institute, which highlights stories of school alumni who are also veterans. He also won the Vimy Pilgrimage Award, and participated in a First World War educational program in Belgium and France.
David is moving another step closer to fulfilling his dream of becoming a clinical psychologist by entering his first year of the Honours Psychology Program at York University. In undergrad and beyond, he hopes to study the impact of chronic illness on mental wellbeing.
Dennis Drewnik – University of Manitoba
Dennis has expressed a keen interest in pursuing a career in research since his teenage years. During high school, he performed university level research, with the goal of protecting a multibillion-dollar canola industry from devastating fungal pathogens. His project received over 25 awards at the provincial, national and international levels, and Dennis presented his research at the prestigious 2016 Nobel Prize Ceremonies.
Since receiving the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in his first year of university, Dennis faced many challenges, but always remained determined to thrive academically. While pursuing a B.Sc. in Cellular, Molecular, and Developmental Biology (Honour’s) with a minor in Chemistry at the University of Manitoba, Dennis received a research award from the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, enabling him to explore opportunities in molecular science. He is now studying novel contributors to neurodegenerative diseases for his honour’s degree project. As he believes in the importance of youth education and science literacy, Dennis introduced an interactive IBD booth at Science Rendezvous, the country’s largest science festival.
His passion for helping others is the reason Dennis works for the University of Manitoba Faculty of Science Dean’s office as an academic advisor for his peers, guiding their futures while encouraging success. Driven to help others succeed, he also tutored and mentored students with learning disabilities, such as ADHD and dyslexia.
A familiar face and leader within the Crohn’s and Colitis Canada community, Dennis is the president of the Winnipeg Chapter. He puts his heart and soul into helping organize chapter meetings, events, and other initiatives with his local staff partner to create awareness and unite the community.
Isabelle Rochette – Université de Montréal
Isabelle completed her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, as well as a graduate program in Data Science at Harvard University. She excelled academically while obtaining a perfect average of 4.0, taking advanced courses in statistics and machine and deep learning. Now, Isabelle is embarking on a new journey in her second year of her PhD program in Criminology with a co-direction in Computer Science.
Her research focuses on cybersecurity of the ecosystem of autonomous and connected vehicles from a resilience perspective. Her interest in this topic stems from the parallels drawn from her own journey with Crohn’s disease: a resilient woman with a chronic disease whose acute inflammatory flare-ups occur randomly, but does not stop her from achieving her dreams.
These skills and interests have translated in to her work life, as she working for the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, allowing her to reflect on the future implications of the development of certain technologies—such as connected and autonomous vehicles—on the evolution of crime and security.
On top of balancing school, research, and day-to-day life, she also has been a volunteer for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada for five years in the Montérégie region. Her passion for research is reflected in the Crohn’s and colitis community as she also participated in the PACE research group in Montreal.
Kate Latos – University of Alberta
Throughout her journey with Crohn’s disease, Kate has not let the disease become her identity; she has and continues to pursue her dreams. At the peak of her illness, Kate competed internationally in freestyle skiing and took part in collegiate cross-country skiing and cheerleading. During her graduate degree, Kate capped off studies with a China study tour.
Over the past 15 years, Kate played an integral role as a volunteer with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada by coordinating education events and fundraisers. In 2009, Kate’s enthusiasm and collaborative nature led her to become the local Gutsy Walk chairperson, which has been a family event for her since 2004. She focuses on connecting, educating, supporting, and inspiring others living with IBD to look beyond their diagnosis for their identity. Her ongoing efforts were recognized as she won Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s ‘Make It Stop. For Life’ award in 2019.
Outside of supporting the Crohn’s and colitis community, Kate continues to shine, as she was a recipient of the ‘Ones to Watch Award’ for the 2018 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards program. Her company, Ecofence and Decking Ltd., focuses on sustainability as it sells products made from 100% postconsumer recycled plastic.
While the illness initially prevented her from pursuing further education, 12 years later Kate is heading back to class to fulfill another dream; completing a degree with the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta.
Lisa MacNeil – Acadia University
Lisa has always had passion for learning. She completed a Bachelor of Public Relations at Mount Saint Vincent University, and Lisa’s co-op employer nominated her for Co-op Student of the Year. Most recently, as a Co-operative Education Coordinator at Mount Saint Vincent University, Lisa supported students in securing co-op work terms and internships. This included delivering professional development sessions on topics like resumes, cover letters, interviews, and communication in the workplace. Lisa was also selected as the Mount Storyteller as part of the Emerging Leader’s Program at the Mount where she wrote profile stories on staff, faculty, alumnae, and students.
While her journey with Crohn’s disease hasn’t been easy, Lisa continues to learn to accept Crohn’s disease as a part of the whole of who she is. Having lived with disease for over 20 years has allowed Lisa to self-reflect and develop patience, humility, empathy and compassion for herself and others. Her experience living with a chronic illness, participating in peer groups and individual therapy inspired her to pursue a Master of Education (MEd) in Counselling. Her goal is to learn counselling skills and techniques to be able to support people living with a chronic illness.
From bringing the magic of Camp Guts and Glory at Brigadoon to life as a camp counsellor to being a peer mentor with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada to participating as a patient-partner with the IMAGINE Chronic Disease Network, Lisa proudly supports the people around her.
Simona Perrotti - McMaster University
Diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 13, Simona calls the disease her “greatest mentor and teacher”—attributing her courage, passion, and resiliency to the experiences she’s undergone throughout her IBD journey.
Simona will be continuing her undergraduate studies as she enters her fourth year at McMaster University in the department of Life Science with a specialization in Molecular Biology and Genetics.
In her three years at McMaster, she has searched for ways to enrich her academic and leadership-oriented learning experiences. She completed leadership courses outside the department of science, which have paved the way to seek leadership roles and employment within the university, such as through her role as Cultural Ambassador in the MELD (McMaster English Language Development) Program, where she mentors international students that require additional language support as they undergo their studies.
Simona is also an influential force for the IBD community in Hamilton. As founder and President of the McMaster Crohn’s and Colitis Club, she raises awareness, provides a support base, and fundraises together with other group members. Additionally, Simona was the Honorary Chair for the Hamilton Chapter at the 2019 Gutsy Walk. She says raising awareness has been a cathartic experience, and has given her the opportunity to share what she has learned with others and to meet individuals who are living through a similar situation.
Sophie LeBlanc – University of New Brunswick
Despite all the odds Crohn’s disease can bring, Sophie has been determined to achieve her goals and remain athletic. Having lived with Crohn’s for 10 years, Sophie is no stranger to the challenges the disease can bring. She has resisted the “sick kid” label and made every effort to be involved with extracurricular activities, such as serving as the Student Council Head of Athletics and Stage Manager for her high school’s production of Mamma Mia!
Sophie graduated from Prince Andrew High School’s International Baccalaureate Programme, and now she is preparing to pursue a BSc in Kinesiology from the University of New Brunswick, so that she can fulfill her goal to become a physiotherapist.
When she’s not playing volleyball, Sophie dedicates her time outside of school to volunteering with Canadian Blood Services, rescue missions, Brigadoon Village, and Crohn’s and Colitis Canada. She has participated in Gutsy Walk for 10 years, making a team every year, and served as the Honorary Youth Chair at the Halifax Chapter’s Gutsy Walk in 2013.
Additionally, Sophie was the Maritimes’ pediatric representative for Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s PACE Network national conference in 2017, providing her input on the Top 10 research initiatives from a patient’s perspective, and was a Patient Engagement Committee member for the IMAGINE Network.
Vanessa Reali – University of Toronto
Both a patient and healthcare provider in the IBD community, Vanessa is pursuing a Masters of Nursing at the University of Toronto. Prior to this, she completed a Bachelor of Science at McMaster University and her undergraduate nursing degree at the University of Toronto with distinction. While pursuing her undergraduate degrees, she was granted authorship for a publication in a top-ranked toxicology journal for her research in an independent study, received a summer research scholarship, and granted authorship on two health policy publications. From there, she was recognized for her outstanding academics at the Honour Society of Nursing: Sigma Theta Tau International.
Last year, she obtained a Canadian Nurses association (CNA) Gastroenterology Certification [CGN(C)], a nationally recognized nursing specialty accreditation representing expertise and commitment to ongoing learning in GI care. Throughout her work, she engages in mentorship and volunteer opportunities, particularly ones involving advocacy and support for students.
Since receiving her diagnosis of Crohn’s disease in 2014, Vanessa rallied her loved ones to participate in Gutsy Walk as “Team Forrest Dump”. Whether it is connecting with someone newly diagnosed or farther along in their journey, Vanessa eagerly shares her story to help others.
Her empathetic nature shines through as a nurse: ensuring patient care is not only met – but the utmost priority. Working as a nurse gives her the pleasure of working with people who, like herself, have stories of who they were before their illness, scars to remind them of the battles they have faced, and families who they continue to fight for.