“I really wish that I make some kind of difference in their lives and to show them that even though IBD is a terrible disease that we can achieve great things. Not that it is an easy journey but that we are capable of so much even if we are sick.”
Capable indeed. Aaron Blocker, who somehow manages PT appointments, doctor appointments, grad school and his advocacy work, definitely lives out his words by action.
Aaron’s initial vision was to become a physician and work with IBD patients. However, as his activism grew, so did his interest in science. In May of 2015 Aaron received his B.S. Degree in Biology Medical Sciences despite undergoing 6 years of multiple surgeries and hospitalizations. He is now a Graduate Student finishing up his Masters Degree in Biomedical Research focusing on a thesis studying the role of the gut microbiota in IBD. To top it all off, Aaron plans to get his PhD so he can continue working with IBD research.
Although you may not need qualifications to be a health activist, Aaron certainly has them!
He combines this extensive scientific background with his own Crohn’s experience to educate the community about current IBD research and how to be an educated patient, so it’s no doubt how powerful his platforms have become.His website, SupportIBD.org, provides resources, his published science articles concerning IBD, and product reviews. He has spoken at events, including the CCFA Louisiana-Mississippi Chapter IBD patient education event. His Facebook page now has almost 23,000 members and he has about 3,000 followers on Twitter. His engagement with his community is truly inspiring. Just take a quick scroll through his Twitter feed and you’ll find him interacting with fellow community members and always asking the community for their input on his research. Even if you aren’t in the IBD community, he is always sharing events or groups for other communities. His favorite part of the advocacy community is the camaraderie between health activists across all condition areas, sharing “We work together for one cause and that is to help patients.”
So even though he’s swamped with seminars, research papers and thesis writing, Aaron continues to lead his IBD community, “I know how hard it is to battle this disease alone and how hard it is to get through all of the information on the Internet that can be scary.”
It wasn’t too long ago Aaron was facing the loneliness a new diagnosis can bring. In 2009, when Aaron was first diagnosed, he was unaware of any fellow patients and there weren’t many outlets for meeting people facing the same condition. So Aaron set off to create his Facebook page, “Support Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis”, to meet fellow patients, which now has a monthly reach of 200,000.
I know what you’re thinking, holy smokes this man is unstoppable. I mean he is referred to as the Bionic Man, but this is due to the fact that both of his hips were replaced owing to a rare bone condition called Avascular Necrosis. Nonetheless, he lives life with a superhuman tendency accomplishing more than most everyday.
But Aaron admits it hasn’t always been easy and his advocacy journey has definitely had its challenges. There were many times Aaron considered giving up, debating if he was making a difference or if his focus on advocacy would harm his career as a scientist-in-training. However, he says
“…then I think about the people who depend on me, the almost 23,000 Facebook members who come to my page for help and answers who struggle with the same disease I struggle with and that’s why I keep going. Patient advocacy is done because of a passion to help people. Not the followers, the media stories about us, but the undying passion to truly help struggling patients. That’s why I advocate. Because my voice is a voice for patients who depend on us to make this journey easier and to make sure their voices are heard through me.”
So yes, I would say Aaron Blocker is unstoppable. Sure, like any human he has moments of doubt and challenges, but it is very clear he is committed to his mission of helping fellow patients within his community and perhaps Dr. Blocker will one day cure IBD!
Kristen Long is the Health Activist Awards Coordinator at WEGO Health. Her own health experiences have inspired her to empower other patients and encourage the power of patient advocacy. Follow Kristen on Twitter and Facebook.