Join ‘GI Jao’ To Fight Crohn’s, Colitis

Dr. Robert Jao, who specializes in gastroenterology at Castle Medical Center and Kuakini Medical Center, is leading a group of walkers at Take Steps, Be Heard for Crohn’s and Colitis, a two-mile walk Nov. 10 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Ala Moana Beach Park-Magic Island.

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are types of inflammatory bowel disease with similar symptoms, but the areas affected in the gastrointestinal tract are different.

“Crohn’s is generally regarded as the more severe of the two because it affects anywhere from the mouth to the anal area,” explains Jao, who serves as president of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA)-Hawaii sub-chapter. “Ulcerative colitis only affects the colon. Both have a strong genetic predisposition, but it also has an environmental trigger.”

According to Jao, there is a definite rise in diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. Three years ago, he started Crohn’s Registry of Hawaii and estimates about 5,000 people in Hawaii are symptomatic, with a portion of those undiagnosed.

“An important discovery (in the last 10 years) is that we have hundreds of cases coming out of China, where we’ve never heard of it in the last 100 years,” adds Jao. “Also, in Hawaii, Asians are being diagnosed more commonly now, and it has not been recognized as an Asian disease.

“My inspiration, my motivation is Hawaii has been kind of overlooked by clinical research and pharmaceutical companies, and even by an organization as big as CCFA. There was a lack of awareness for so long. Yes, Asian-Americans can get inflammatory bowel disease, too, and there’s been an increase in the subgroup of Asian-Americans.”

Some of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are abdominal pain, diarrhea with or without blood, weight loss, loss of appetite and fatigue.

“It’s a very subtle disease in most people until a flare happens,” says Jao. “For ulcerative colitis, there is a curative surgery called total colectomy. For Crohn’s there’s not yet a cure, but research is absolutely blossoming in this field.”

The Take Steps, Be Heard for Crohn’s and Colitis walk is CCFA’s largest fundraising event and raises awareness of the more than 1.4 million American adults and children affected by digestive diseases.

This year is the first Take Steps event in Hawaii. In addition to the walk, there will be music, informational booths, face painting, balloon twisting by Dr. Mark Morisaki (also a gastroenterologist), games and refreshments.

There is no fee to participate, but donations are welcome. Proceeds go to the CCFA to be used for patient education, research and advocacy. Register for the upcoming walk at You can pick any team listed, create your own or join Jao’s team, called “GI Jao.”