Inflammatory Bowel Disease—Where To Find Expert CareOct 11, 2022 01:32PM ● By Mary DeHaven, St. Luke's University Health Network
Two years after citizens dismantled the Berlin Wall separating West Germany from Communist Germany, a Bulgarian exchange student faced a challenge that would change the direction of his life. It would lead him on a journey to St. Luke’s University Health Network, where he and his colleagues would provide the latest treatments to help patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—a chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract with symptoms including frequent diarrhea, urgency, bleeding, and abdominal pain.
Today, Vesko Tomov, MD, PhD, is a researcher, gastroenterologist, and IBD specialist with St. Luke’s Gastroenterology Associates. But in 1991, he was an exchange student at a Connecticut high school. There, two teachers challenged him to think critically and question, which was discouraged during his childhood in then-communist Bulgaria. Dr. Tomov, a third-generation physician, received a medical degree from Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, and completed an internship and residency, as well as gastroenterology and IBD fellowships, at the Hospital of U Penn in Philadelphia.
It was there that Dr. Tomov met a bright young fellow, Yecheskel Schneider, MD. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Dr. Schneider graduated from New York University School of Medicine in New York City. He completed his residency and gastroenterology fellowship at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell before his IBD fellowship at Penn. Dr. Schneider decided to become a physician after witnessing the positive impact physicians had on the life of his mother, who had a chronic autoimmune lung disease.
“Because IBD has no cure, I have the privilege of working with my patients to manage their conditions throughout their lives,” Dr. Schneider said. “I get to develop long-term relationships, which I value.”
During their fellowships at Penn, they worked alongside national IBD experts, learned about the latest treatment options, and were involved in treating patients with complex IBD cases. Today, they use that knowledge to quickly determine the most effective course of treatment for each new patient.
After completing his fellowship, Dr. Schneider joined St. Luke’s Gastroenterology Specialists. Delighted with the practice’s comradery and commitment to serving patients, he encouraged Dr. Tomov to join the practice. Drs. Schneider and Tomov are part of a team of other St. Luke’s gastroenterologists, dietitians, and nurses with expertise in treating IBD.
“We practice evidence-based medicine and use the latest and safest treatments,” Dr. Tomov said. “We provide individualized treatment approaches and work with our patients to provide the right care for them. This means addressing their individual concerns and needs.”
Dr. Schneider added, “We are at the forefront in providing IBD care and make sure everyone is getting the most up-to-date, evidence-based care. We love helping patients with IBD and we’re very patient-centered and patient-focused.”
A nurse navigator guides patients to ensure they receive coordinated and timely evaluations, tests, treatments, and follow-up care. Pre-authorization specialists work with insurance providers to coordinate necessary referrals and communication.
“Many patients with IBD assume their quality of life must be poor forever. They put up with a lot of unnecessary misery with diarrhea, pain, bleeding, etc.,” Dr. Tomov said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. My goal is to restore my patients’ quality of life and bowel function so they can live normally.”
IBD also increases the risk of cancer and can affect other areas of the body. Symptoms can include arthritis-like joint pain, skin rashes, eye inflammation, and blood clots. As a result, the IBD specialists work with other specialists, including St. Luke’s oncologists, rheumatologists, dermatologists, and ophthalmologists. Furthermore, they work closely with colorectal surgeons.
“One of my goals is to minimize the need for surgery,” Dr. Tomov said. “Conversely, there are situations where IBD is severe, and surgery can be lifesaving. Recognizing that and guiding the patients towards a good surgeon is essential.”
They see patients in Allentown, Bethlehem, and Coaldale. Dr. Schneider particularly enjoys providing care where it wasn’t available previously. “I like that we meet patients where they are instead of expecting them to come to us.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment with a St. Luke’s IBD Center physician, call 484-526-6545 or visit www.sluhn.org/gastroenterology/make-an-appointment.