At first, investment entrepreneur Judy Resnick did not realize that her daughter, Stacey Shiffman, was carrying a genetically transmitted disease.
"We didn't know what she had," Resnick said. "It was after her first child was born, and she was getting sicker and sicker and thinner and thinner. It's very difficult to watch your children suffer from anything. It affects everybody."
Thirteen years later, Resnick -- who chronicled her transformation from a struggling, divorced mother of two into an Inc. magazine-worthy success story in her best-seller, "I've Been Rich. I've Been Poor. Rich Is Better." (Golden Books, 1999) -- knows all too well about Crohn's and colitis diseases.
On March 20, the Greater Los Angeles Chapter of the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA) will honor Resnick, 61, along with Dr. Oliver Goldsmith, at the Beverly Hills Hotel for her support of Crohn's and colitis medical research.
"When we were told what she had, we were relieved ... until we learned what Crohn's was," Resnick said.
There are more than 1 million known cases nationwide of Crohn's and colitis, which tend to be diagnosed in the teen years and can skip several decades to become a nuisance after the age of 45. These diseases disproportionately affect people of Eastern European Jewish descent -- they are four to five times more likely to contract the diseases.
Crohn's Disease and ulcerative colitis attack the large colon and disrupt the digestive system, causing multiple flare-ups of intense diarrhea, bleeding and pain. Commonly known as inflammatory bowel disease, the diseases create a weakness in the immune system. With colitis, the disease can be eradicated surgically by removing all or part of the colon. However, there is no known way to eliminate Crohn's.
"It's not a disease people talk about," said Hank Borenstein, executive director of the local CCFA chapter. "People shy away from it."
With 40 chapters nationwide, CCFA raises $25 million annually, with about 25 percent going to research and the rest toward education, programming and services.
"Stacey's the first person to ever have it in my family," said Resnick, who also has an older daughter, Audrey Little, 37, and five grandchildren. "She's had a very bad experience. She's in and out of the hospital."
Originally from New Jersey, Resnick attended Hamilton High School. Her troubles began in early adulthood, after her marriage quickly imploded.
"I was a stay-at-home mother," Resnick said. "My father used to help my children."
But after her father died, Resnick encountered a financial letdown.
"At the end of the day, there was no big estate [to support me and my kids]," said Resnick, who did inherit a 5 percent interest in her father's business -- around $60,000 -- that her father's former business partners sued her for after she refused to sell.
This aggravation came a few months after a great personal tragedy for Resnick, who lost her mother and her sister in the 1978 midair collision between Pacific Southwest Airlines flight 182 and a single-engine Cessna over San Diego. Resnick and her brother were devastated.
"My parents were never sick," Resnick said. "They didn't live [long] enough to be sick."
Resnick won a sizable settlement from her father's former partners, but bad investments and attorney fees took most of the money.
Divorced, unemployed and lacking a college education, Resnick decided to handle her own financial destiny by becoming a stockbroker at 40. She soon co-founded Dabney/Resnick/Imperial, an investment brokerage firm that yielded $30 million annually in revenue, before selling her interest and creating The Resnick Group in 1996.
She celebrated her success by writing "I've Been Rich. I've Been Poor. Rich Is Better." to help empower other women to do what she did: take control of their finances and live autonomously.
The tragic elements of Resnick's family history have given her an acute appreciation for what she has.
"I've already learned the importance of life and appreciating it," Resnick said. "You can have everything else going, but if you don't have your health...."
Now living in Ojai, Resnick said, "My real goal is to help whoever is going to do it. I'm very anxious for a cure for this disease. The more awareness the more money for research, so I feel good about that."
For more information on Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, call (213) 380-3800 or visit www.ccfa.org .