All My Children
Nothing has influenced Dr. Ilana Fortgang in her career as much as becoming a mother.
When she thinks back over the many mentors and intelligent people who have helped her get where she is today, she points to the birth of her daughter as being her primary inspiration. “A professor in medical school told us that, ‘Being a pediatrician doesn’t make you a better parent, but being a parent makes you a better pediatrician,’” Dr. Fortgang says. “He was right … I promise that I will treat your child like my own. When I’m responsible for these patients, they are all my kids.”
As a recent addition to Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates, she is the practice’s only pediatric specialist and is building their pediatric service line. “I always admired this group, and, when my pediatric patients graduated from my practice, I sent them to Metro,” Dr. Fortgang says. “They’re very progressive. They have always been committed to serving the community’s needs; to delivering excellent, compassionate care.”
After majoring in English at Harvard University, Dr. Fortgang realized that doctors — such as Anton Chekov and Walker Percy — told the best stories. “I thought through medicine, I would have something to write about,” she says.
And she does.
Her training took her to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. Surgical training followed at Tulane University, where that beloved baby steered her instead to pediatrics. She went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville for her fellowship, and she couldn’t return quickly enough to her beloved New Orleans where she was, prior to joining Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates, Division Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.
Every patient has a story, and she cherishes her role in helping change its course for the better. Her favorite stories have happy endings. Like the time a pediatric neurosurgeon called her to fix his patient’s constipation because it was making the baby’s seizures worse. Or when a child with gallstones and biliary colic is finally thriving after Dr. Fortgang’s surgical referral. And the child in psychotherapy whose trouble stemmed from a vexing gastrointestinal issue, which Dr. Fortgang was delighted to help take out of the equation.
There’s a powerful “brain-butt connection” when it comes to the way the intestinal tract works, she says. Especially in functional diseases like irritable bowel syndrome where talk therapy can help with stress to let the system relax and function more regularly. Other problems involving disease of the organs are not so simple. Unfortunately, that’s a complex area of serious illness that seems to be on the rise.
In the past month, Dr. Fortgang has diagnosed two new cases of Crohn’s Disease and a new case of ulcerative colitis. These inflammatory bowel diseases typically afflict less than .005 percent of the population, so watching her numbers triple or even quadruple in the past year is concerning. However, the research is promising. Some of the most exciting progress has been made in manipulating the microbiome; using antibiotics, probiotics or prebiotics to help the gut and G.I. tract flourish. She is hopeful the research will lead to influencing other inflammatory diseases and certain cancers as well.
“If you talked to 10 pediatric subspecialists, everyone thinks his or her field is the most fascinating,” she says. “But take it from me, G.I. really is an exciting and evolving field.”
A good portion of Dr. Fortgang’s work starts with listening. Of course, very young children have trouble enunciating pain, but that’s what crying is for. The other metric she uses is based on the “If you water them, they will grow” theory, so failure to thrive is a huge indicator of gastrointestinal issues. She finds older children will tell you what they want you to know if you don’t talk down to them. Labs and diagnostic testing fill in what words cannot.
The rest of Dr. Fortgang’s work falls under collaboration: with the many pediatricians she is forging a relationship with to help heal the city’s children; with the pediatric surgeons who allow her to keep up with her interest in surgery and nearly guarantee disease solution; and with the Louisiana State University G.I. fellows at Children’s Hospital, Louisiana’s only pediatric gastroenterology training program.
Though she hasn’t yet found the time, there might yet be a book in Dr. Fortgang’s future. She spends her days listening to stories and says the narrative is always changing. “I guess I never wanted to grow up to be super rich,” she says. “I never wanted to be famous. But I always wanted to have an interesting life, and I got it.”
Medical School: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
Residency: Tulane University, Pediatrics
Fellowship: Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Pediatric Gastroenterology
Board Certifications: Pediatric Gastroenterology
Ilana S. Fortgang, M.D.
Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates
West Bank: 1111 Medical Center Blvd., Ste. S-450, Marrero, LA 70072
Uptown: 2820 Napoleon Ave., Suite 720, New Orleans, LA 70115
Metairie: 4228 Houma Blvd., Suite 520, Metairie, LA 70006