ANN ARBOR, MI – Hospital lights. Medical tests. Surgery bed. Sawyer Fernandez knows how these can raise the anxiety of a child patient.
Seven years ago, the Ypsilanti teen found out he had Crohn’s Disease, or a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Medication could only do so much, as a few years later he went to Michigan Medicine for surgery on his intestinal system.
He remembers how worried he felt during his 12-day stay in the hospital.
“It makes you feel like what you have is very serious,” he said.
Sawyer, now 17, and his mother Daney de la Fuente have managed his Crohn’s Disease for the better part of a decade. As he experienced a path forward, Sawyer now wants to break the stigma of the disease for younger patients through a comic book he is currently drawing.
“Gastrocomics” is a DC Comics-style book drawn and written by Sawyer that depicts superheroes doing battle with “villainous” digestive diseases such as Crohn’s Disease, he said. It both educates on the disease while softening the subject matter for child patients, he said.
“I felt like maybe it would make the kids feel better,” Sawyer said, “as well as make them feel like they can push through.”
There is currently no cure for Crohn’s Disease, as management or treatment can last a lifetime, according to Michigan Medicine. The disease affects about 700,000 people in the U.S., hospital officials said.
Though not a worst-case scenario, Sawyer’s diagnosis required surgery for bowel obstructions, de la Fuente said. The pre-surgery process typically leads to significant weight loss, she said, as Sawyer weighed around 90 pounds by the time of the operation.
“That can affect your daily life,” she said. “That can affect you wanting to do some sports…you see all these teenagers developing muscles and doing sports and you’re not able to do it. Now it gets treated, and the doctor who did the surgery did an amazing job, so now he is 146 pounds.”
Sawyer now plays sports, but he also grew up loving superheroes and comic books such as “Spawn” and “Invincible” by Image Comics. Those series have more mature content, he said, so DC Comics is a “softer” avenue to destigmatize Crohn’s for child patients, he said.
“Each villain is a different disease, and when these villains are introduced in the story, there will be a panel that describes what exactly they are and what they do,” Sawyer said. “On the back of the comic book, there will be a description of each character and what their disease is like and how it affects you and what to do about it.”
The “villains” are drawn in more human-like ways rather than how the diseases appear in reality, he said.
“I kind of want to take the realistic sadness out of it to keep their minds away from it,” he said.
His early panels drew the attention of nurses and doctors in Michigan Medicine, de la Fuente said.
“They got so impressed with Sawyer’s work that they put his panels on the 12th floor (of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital),” she said.
Sawyer is currently working to complete the comic book and is seeking ways to distribute on a wider scale. For more information, visit his website at animart342.wixsite.com/gastrocomics.
At the end of the day, his experience with Crohn’s and “Gastrocomics” is meant for the children who are in the same position he was in a few years ago.
“I want to show them that it’s not as bad as they think it is,” he said.
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Sawyer Fernandez, 17, is drawing a DC Comics-inspired book to take away the anxiety of the disease to younger readers. Read More