Grasso is 20 years old and a junior in college. She lives with Inflammatory Bowel Disease; an auto-immune disorder that affects the digestive tract: sores and ulcers form on the digestive lining.
Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease are the two diseases that are collectively known as I.B.D.; in Colitis only the colon or large intestine are affected. In Crohn's the problem can be anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract.
"When I was 9 years old, right after Christmas break in fourth grade, I noticed I was having some pain and problems in the bathroom," Grasso explained. "Then in two months, I had dropped 20 pounds; I was in the bathroom 23 times a day."
The symptoms of I.B.D. include persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain or cramps, bloody stool, fever and weight loss, joint, skin or eye irritation and delayed growth in children. It is a disease that affects an estimated 1.4 million Americans, with about 30,000 new cases each year.
Grasso's parents made the drive to Denver from their home in Pueblo, to admit her to The Children's Hospital. While there, "my colon ruptured in three different places. I was admitted into emergency surgery to save my life," Grasso said.
The doctors removed Grasso's colon. The surgery is known as a J-pouch procedure; when the small intestine is formed into a pouch-like reservoir to act as a large intestine. This surgery and hospital stay was just the beginning of Grasso's long journey.
"Then after middle school right before I was starting high school, out of nowhere I had this severe pain in my abdomen," Grasso said. "My j-pouch had perforated and abscessed. This time I was older, I had a little bit more knowledge. I lived with a colostomy bag my freshman year of high school, which in all honesty was humiliating. I just didn't deal with it very well."
Grasso and her parents describe their ordeals as difficult and isolating; often times they were unsure of what was ahead or how Robin would be able to pull out of it.
"When this all first started with me, my family and I felt entirely alone," Grasso explained. "To go through something so traumatic but then to feel isolated, that makes it 100 times worse."
This feeling of isolation is what ultimately launched the Never Alone Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps those living with I.B.D. The foundation was started by Grasso, her parents and others in the Pueblo community.
"To help with emotional support, financial support and basically just be there to assure people you never have to be alone in your struggle," Grasso said.
The foundation has held multiple golf tournaments raising money to help battle the illness. In one instance, money was given to a Colorado woman who had both Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis. She could not afford a needed surgery and the Never Alone Foundation stepped in to help.
"We all go through hardships in life," Grasso said. "But if we can overcome them, and use what we've learned to help others, I think that makes the difference."
Grasso is getting ready to take part in Take Steps against Crohn's and Colitis, is the annual fundraising walk that is hosted by the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.
Denver's walk is being held at the Denver Zoo on Saturday, June fifth.
To learn more about CCFA, you can click here
To learn more about the Never Alone Foundation, Click here
(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)