Marvin Bush, First Brother, and Ulcerative Colitis

Bush Family Portrait
Bush Family Photo. Top, Left to right: Marvin, 22; George, 3; Jeb, 26; George; George W., 33; George's wife, Laura. Bottom, left to right: Jeb's wife, Columba; Noelle, 2; Dorothy, 20; Barbara; Neil, 24. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

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 29: 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 Walker Bush Koch. Another sibling, Robin Bush, passed away from leukemia at the age of 3 in 1953.

Battle With Ulcerative Colitis

During his father's vice presidency in 1986, Marvin became extremely ill. He lost about 60 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 his colon. This type of surgery is called a colectomy, and anywhere from 20% to 30% 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, the colon (large intestine) is removed and the end of the small intestine is brought through the abdomen to the outside of the body. This is a type of ostomy called an ileostomy. Waste material (stool) leaves the body through this opening, which is called a stoma. This does mean that an external appliance, called an 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 Washington, DC. Marvin and his family continue to live in the DC area.

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  1. Peyrin-biroulet L, Germain A, Patel AS, Lindsay JO. Systematic review: outcomes and post-operative complications following colectomy for ulcerative colitis. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2016;44(8):807-16. doi:10.1111/apt.13763

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

  • Marvin Bush. LinkedIn Profile.