The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s 31st Annual Torch Gala at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta will raise money for Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis research Oct. 15.

This year the foundation is attempting to raise $520,000 through the Gala, with proceeds going toward funding critical research, to better diagnose and ultimately cure, IBD, which include Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis. At the Gala, Drs. Ellen and Philip (known as Pip) Spandorfer will be recognized as the Volunteers of the Year, for their years of work with the Foundation.

Neal Maziar, Chief Advisory Officer, BE A SPORT, is the chair of the 2021 Torch Gala. He was diagnosed with colitis in 1996 and has been working with the Foundation for years in several capacities.

In addition to the Spandorfers, 2021 Torch Gala honorees include Mark Murphy, MD., Premier Adult Physician of the Year; and Bess Schoen, MD., Premier Pediatric Physician of the Year. The Gala’s Corporate Sponsor is Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation is the largest non-profit voluntary health agency dedicated to finding cures for Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and to improving the quality of life of those affected. The Torch Gala is the largest fundraiser of the year for the Foundation’s Georgia Chapter. In 31 years, the Torch Gala has raised more than $8.5 million.

Ellen and Pip Spandorfer have a personal connection to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. Both of their children, Jack, 20, and Carly, 18, have Crohn’s disease and were diagnosed ten years ago. Dr. Pip (as he is known to his patients) reflects on the time when his son was first diagnosed with the disease.

“I’m a pediatrician and my wife is a psychologist, and as parents we were also hurting when our child was in pain,” Dr. Pip said. “This was something that we couldn’t fix; we felt so alone. It was the quiet time at home when Jack was suffering the most, he seemed to hold it together in front of our family and friends.”

A few years after Jack’s diagnosis, Carly Spandorfer was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease as well.

“When our son was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease we were honestly shocked — we did not even think about Crohn’s,” Dr. Pip said. “You know how you are always worried about your children and something happening to them — well Crohn’s was definitely not on our list of things to worry about. We didn’t know many people with Crohn’s and certainly we didn’t know any kids with it.”

“We were obviously worried about our daughter developing Crohn’s as well,” Dr. Pip said. “We kept a close eye on her and as soon as she showed a symptom two years later, we got her tested. We were devastated to find out that she also had Crohn’s just like our son.”

“In the years that followed their diagnoses, our kids needed treatment for their Crohn’s,” Dr. Ellen Spandorfer said. “Medication wasn’t enough; both Jack and Carly eventually needed surgery to relieve their symptoms. It was an uncertain, scary time. We wanted to share our experiences with other families feeling the same way.”

In 2013, the Spandorfers reached out to the Foundation to start a pediatric support group, to help other families going through the same emotions they were going through.

Since then, they have helped hundreds of families who were experiencing the same pain they felt as a family. To this day, they still assist with the support group.

“We are thrilled to honor Pip and Ellen as Volunteers of the Year,” Neal Maziar said. “They are truly community champions who are helping the Foundation advance its mission with their substantial commitment and years of volunteer service.”

Maziar said when he was diagnosed with colitis, his first reaction was that he and his family could handle it. His wife, he said, was his cheerleader, nurse and voice of reason.

“As someone who has suffered for years with this disease, I recognize the importance of events like the Torch Gala to not only raise the much-needed funds for critical research and programs, but also to promote awareness in the community about IBD,” Maziar said. “This event is a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together and support the Foundation, to find new treatments, and hopefully one day a cure.”

“The advances I have seen in the treatment and diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease over the past 20 years is encouraging,” Maziar said. “Much of this progress can be attributed to events like Torch Gala where people have been so kind and generous with their giving. As we approach this year’s Gala, in order to continue the great research and outcomes we are seeing at the Foundation, we would be grateful for any financial support from the metro Atlanta community.”

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