Marvin Bush's Colectomy Experience With Bowel Disease

The former First Brother had surgery for ulcerative colitis

Marvin Pierce Bush, the youngest son of former President George H.W. and the late former First Lady Barbara Bush, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 1985. He was just 28: a young man starting his life when the illness struck. Ulcerative colitis is an incurable disease of the digestive tract, and one form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Marvin's siblings include former President George W. Bush, John (Jeb) Bush, Neil Bush, and Dorothy Bush Koch. Another sibling, Robin Bush, passed away from leukemia at the age of 3 in 1953.

Bush Family Portrait
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

Battle With Ulcerative Colitis

During his father's vice presidency in 1986, Marvin Bush became extremely ill. He lost about 30 pounds and was finally admitted to Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. At the time when Marvin was diagnosed, there were very few medical treatments available for ulcerative colitis, and people sometimes became very ill with the disease.

Marvin's ulcerative colitis was so severe at that time that he ended up having surgery to remove part of his colon. This type of surgery is called a colectomy, and around 2.5% of people with ulcerative colitis will have it to manage their disease. Today there are other surgical treatments available, such as ileal pouch-anal anastomosis (IPAA), which is commonly called J-pouch surgery.

The J-pouch surgery also involves the first step of a colectomy, but further surgery is done that negates the need for the external appliance to collect waste.

What Is a Colectomy?

During a colectomy, all or part of the colon (large intestine) is removed. Some types of colectomy, like ileoanal anastomosis, preserve the ability to pass stool through the anus. With other types, like a proctocolectomy, an ileostomy will be necessary to bring part of the small intestine through the abdomen to create an opening called a stoma. Stool will leave the body through this opening, meaning that an external ostomy bag must be worn on the abdomen in order to collect waste.

Work With CCFA

Because ulcerative colitis is a difficult disease to cope with, many people go on to report that they have a better quality of life after having ostomy surgery. Given the public perception of IBD at the time, the Bush family was quite private regarding Marvin's illness and surgery. The story was kept out of the media at the time, and not many people knew he had been ill. However, Marvin became public about his ulcerative colitis and colectomy surgery in the 1990s. He has been quoted as saying that it took "losing" his guts in order to gain the courage to discuss his disease.

Today, Marvin is active in the IBD community and shares his experiences as a patient with others who are living with IBD. He has been a spokesperson for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation since 1991. His mother, Barbara, who passed away in April 2018, recorded a series of television and radio public service announcements for the Crohns & Colitis Foundation in 2003.

Personal Life

Marvin graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He has been married to Margaret Conway Molster since 1981, and they have two adopted children together, daughter Marshall and son Charles. He is the founder and a managing partner at investment firm Winston Partners in Arlington, Virginia. Marvin and his family continue to live in the DC area.

1 Source
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  1. Misra R, Askari A, Faiz O, Arebi N. Colectomy rates for ulcerative colitis differ between ethnic groups: Results from a 15-year nationwide cohort study. Can J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016;2016:8723949.

Additional Reading
  • Fleshner PR. "Surgical management of ulcerative colitis." 11 Jan 2016.

  • Marvin Bush. LinkedIn Profile.

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.