Kevin Hahn had been taking medication for his ulcerative colitis since he was 12. But after more than five years of treatment, the inflammatory bowel disease suddenly flared up in March 2014 shortly after his 18th birthday.
By April the high school senior had lost weight and was stuck in the bathroom around 20 times a day with painful diarrhea. Despite months of discomfort and medical procedures, Hahn continued to play basketball and baseball with his high school teams, even taking the mound several hours after his release from the hospital. The San Mateo Daily Journal named him 2014 Boys' Athlete of the Year.
Hahn and his gastroenterologist, UCSF's Dr. Mel Heyman, decided he needed surgery in June to remove his colon. Two months after the operation, Hahn started college at the University of Arizona. Unfortunately, a complication forced him to drop out for the semester, but he was back at school again in January 2015 after two additional bowel surgeries — as well as a shoulder operation to correct a sports injury.
What were your symptoms when you were first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis?
Kevin: I had a lot of diarrhea and stomach pain, and I was losing a lot of weight.
What happened when the disease flared up several years later?
Dawn, Kevin's mother: He had a flare-up the second week of March 2014 that continued to get worse. He had bloody stools and diarrhea and was losing weight. At the height of this around April, he was in the bathroom 20 times a day. Nothing was staying in him.
Between April and May, he was hospitalized three times. In that period, he lost probably 20 pounds.
Kevin: I was also taking a lot of pain medicine. I would usually take two pain pills before every basketball game to try and make it through the game okay.
How were you able to continue playing sports at such a high level throughout your flare-up?
Kevin: For some reason the games kind of cleared my mind, so my energy and focus weren't really on my stomach. It was kind of an escape for me: one time in the day that I didn't have to think about the disease and what was going on.
Dawn: He's a tough kid. He's always been that way. He'll do anything to play in his sports game. He had his June surgery when they removed his colon, and he was back on the pitching mound three weeks later for his league.
How did you end up pitching a baseball game hours after you were released from a hospital stay?
Kevin: I was telling the doctors that I wanted to get out by Friday to pitch in our rival game. Friday came around, and in the morning when the doctors were making their rounds, I told them I'd really like to get out today. They said I had to drink more water, get off IV medication and take the IV out. Ultimately, they let me leave around 12 p.m. I slept on the way to my house. I think they took the IV out around 10 a.m., and I was pitching at 3 p.m. I pitched six innings and gave up one run.
Why was it important to you to play even when you were so sick?
Kevin: The bond you have with those players when you go through every day of practice — it meant a lot. They put in the time and the work just like I did. I wanted to be the best teammate that I could.
Dawn: I think that's what got him through. He's a true athlete. School is school, but he lives for sports. The best analogy would be when the baseball team in May kind of lost in our playoffs series, the next day his body fell apart. Mentally, he just wouldn't let himself be as sick as he probably was.
What did Kevin’s first surgery consist of?
Dawn: In June doctors removed Kevin's colon and put in what’s called a J-pouch. They pulled the small intestine down and put in a temporary bag.
Why did you have to take time off from college in the fall?
Kevin: I went to one day of class, and then I woke up the next morning relatively early. It didn't hurt really, but it didn't feel right. I could tell something was off. I went in the bathroom and threw up, and it was all clear. I knew at that point that something was probably wrong.
Dawn: He ended up having a blockage. We had just gotten home from taking him and getting his dorm room all set up, and I hopped back on a plane and packed up his dorm room and threw it in a storage space and flew back. He got one day of college.
How is everything going now after the two additional surgeries at UCSF?
Dawn: He's doing much better. He's up to 174 pounds from 151 in September, and he's 6'3". He has no pain and goes to the bathroom three or four times a day, which is a blessing. It was a very emotional holiday season. We were all very thankful that he's better. He's gone through so much and handled it amazingly.
What are your plans for the future?
Kevin: I'm majoring in journalism right now. I'd like to be a sports broadcaster, hopefully for the Giants and the Warriors.
Did getting sick at a young age change your perspective?
Kevin: I think it taught me the most about family and how much you need your family in life. My mom never left the hospital and she came out to Arizona. I was really thankful for them.
Dawn: Kevin can relate to people more now, and he has more of a maturity about him and more patience. He's been through a lot. He's going to end up doing something big and wonderful in his life because he's got the mental capacity for it.