Marvin Bush violates his privacy to discuss a stigmatized illness


September 25, 1990|By Nora Frenkiel

He's the one child of President Bush's you don't read much about.

While his older brother Neil is in the headlines -- currently being sued by federal regulators in connection with the collapse of a Denver bank -- Marvin Bush, 33, the second youngest, does his best to stay out of the news.

"I keep a very low profile. I lead a private life and I'm proud of it," he says, calling himself the least political of the Bush's five children: George W., an oil man in Texas; Jeb, a Miami businessman; Neil; and Dorothy, the youngest, who works in Washington.

The only reason Marvin Bush is coming forward now is his willingness to violate his own privacy and discuss an important issue that is usually shrouded in secrecy.

That is the illness commonly known as inflammatory bowel disease. Marvin Bush was in town yesterday as the spokesman for the National Foundation for Ileitis and Colitis, which honored 10 local teen-agers who have the disease and who offer support to others.

Mr. Bush knows the subject well -- he was treated for the disease 4 1/2 years ago after an illness.

"This organization is the only opportunity where I utilize my father's name to benefit something," he says, sitting somewhat uncomfortably in a plush suite in a downtown hotel. "As the president's son, I think I'm always scrutinized. People pre-judge me and I couldn't care less. I look at the flip side, and this is an opportunity to be heard and they needed a spokesperson who would be heard.

"Another part is selfish because I've truly come to believe that a part of the healing process comes from helping other people."

In 1985, at the age of 28, Marvin Bush -- athletic, lanky and handsome -- was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammation of the colon. And although he tried to live with the disease for a year with medication, he found himself getting progressively worse. "I just thought I was indestructible when **TC got sick and I continued to deny it because I thought it would go away."

By the time he was in the hospital in April 1986, he was so ill he had lost almost 30 pounds and was bleeding internally. He had to undergo immediate life-saving surgery that removed part of his colon and created an ostomy -- an opening in his abdomen through which body wastes are emptied into an external pouch. There was a second surgery in October 1987 for the removal of his entire colon.

An estimated 2 million people in this country are affected by this disease and 1 million have undergone ostomy surgery. What Mr. Bush had, ulcerative colitis, is one of the two most common forms of inflammatory bowel disease. The other form is Crohn's disease, of which ileitis is one type. These illnesses -- which frequently occur in young people from their teens through their mid-30s -- are rarely discussed openly.

"There is still a stigma," he says, "and I think it has to do with a disease that has to deal with bowels and intestines. We're taught not to talk about it." But Mr. Bush has spoken with many people about the experience. "I was talking to a woman in Illinois who told me she suffered for 15 years and since her surgery two years ago she hasn't left the house. She felt personal shame and refused to go out."

Mr. Bush says those feelings are common. And he has written openly of the details of his illness in a March 1989 Ladies' Home Journal article: "I was a slave to the bathroom, feeling nauseated, and having bowel movements as often as fifteen times a day."

He praises his family for helping him survive the ordeal. "My parents agonized," he says, adding, "This disease takes plenty of prisoners." His father, whom he calls "my best friend," was at his bedside every morning and evening while his mother spent hours each day with him as well.

The most difficult part of recovery was emotional. "Once in a while a little self-pity comes," he admits, "but other than that I don't think about it all the time . . . Some people feel this disease is the end of your life but I view it as a second chance."

He and his wife resumed their lives. They live in Alexandria, Va., where he works as a financial consultant, owns several video stores and has just been appointed Virginia's GOP state finance chairman. Margaret Bush -- the college sweetheart he married after they both graduated form the University of Virginia -- works as a part-time preschool teacher.

He credits his wife -- who was treated for ovarian cancer as a child -- for helping him get through the worst of the illness. They have two adopted children, ages 4 and 9 months. They live quietly and mostly out of the public eye.

He says they get a lot of invitations, "but we don't want to be socialites. We just want to live a normal life."

He says, "I would never run for political office. I don't have the patience for it that my father does . . . I also know the effect it has on your family."

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