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Michael Seres started 11 Health as a direct result of his experiences as an ostomate. He had suffered with Crohn’s disease for over 30 years and after a small bowel transplant, he needed an ostomy. He felt alone and powerless. The bags were hard for him to get used to and they did not help to manage his condition – they just collected output. He started blogging and tweeting about his journey and found tens of thousands of patients who felt the same way but were too anxious or disempowered to do anything about it. Michael made a commitment that he would devote his life to making a difference for these patients.

Despite his health struggles, which included fighting and beating cancer multiple times, he found the strength to start a healthcare company that shares his single-minded focus of helping patients, and in particular ostomates. The company is called 11 Health as Michael was the 11th person in the UK to have had the pioneering transplant procedure. Only a few of the 10 that went before him survived the procedure. Michael did not just survive, he thrived and accomplished so much in his short life.

Advocacy was always a part of Michael’s life. He always found time to prioritize it amidst the challenges of running an international business and managing his health. In his talk at Stanford Medicine X in 2017, he talked about a revolutionary idea of using social media for doctor-patient communications. Michael believed that patients were the most underutilized resource in healthcare and he spoke beautifully about it in his famous TEDx Talk in 2018. The need for the patient to be at the center of patient care ran through his core. He felt that patients should not be passive end users. Instead, patients should be engaged in medical decision making and empowered by education and self-care tools. Michael’s reach was spread wide and he advocated for patients to the leadership of Google and even on a panel alongside Bill Clinton.

We lost Michael last year. Whilst our hearts are still filled with sadness, we are more determined than ever to deliver his vision of changing healthcare and making it patient centric.  He believed passionately in the ‘everyone included’ philosophy. A movement for change supported by doctors, nurses, policy makers but most importantly, patients. Making that change will be Michael’s legacy.

We are creating a special birthday Gutsy Gathering on March 23 from 3-7pm EST in Michael’s memory. It will not be a day to mourn. It will be a day to celebrate the achievements of an extraordinary man by inviting some equally extraordinary people to talk about their personal or professional involvement in the patient experience. Sessions will focus on themes relating to advocacy, confidence, community, and change.

The Michael Seres birthday Gutsy Gathering will be an annual event and an opportunity for friends to meet in a face-to-face setting. This year it will be virtual, with speakers joining us from around the world from across the ‘everyone included’ spectrum. The live sessions will run from 3-7pm EST and participants can come and go as their schedules allow. The event is free, and registration is required at www.gutsygathering.com. Our esteemed list of speakers continues to grow and can be found on the registration page. Please join us!

 

Editor’s note: This article is from one of our digital sponsors, 11 Health. Sponsor support along with donations from readers like you help to maintain our website and the free trusted resources of UOAA, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Embracing Ostomy Advocacy and Giving Back

 

By Angie Davenport

I’ve had my ileostomy for 38 years due to ulcerative colitis but I only recently went public to encourage other ostomates.  Over the years I’ve helped many individuals by word of mouth while keeping my ileostomy private to the outside world. I have always wanted to be a blessing on a wider scope though to others with ostomies.

I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 1980 when I was three months pregnant.  At first, I thought it was pregnancy symptoms.  After a major episode, I was treated with medication for ulcerative colitis.  My son, James was born a few weeks early due to complications.

After the birth of my son in March of 1981, everything was under control and I eventually relocated from Warren, Ohio to Atlanta, Georgia.  While living in Atlanta I had a major setback with ulcerative colitis and I had to fly back to Ohio immediately and went directly to the hospital.

After several weeks of treatments in the hospital, my doctor came into my hospital room one night and said we have to do surgery or you won’t make it 24 hours.  I’ll never forget my mom crying and praying for God to give her my disease so I could have a normal life.

When I received my permanent ileostomy in March of 1982 I was a young 23-year-old single mom.  It was the day before my son’s first birthday.  I had never heard of an ostomy.  When I woke up in ICU I was devastated, ashamed and frightened.  I thought my life was over.

Once I became strong enough physically and mentally I moved back to Atlanta.  I was still feeling ashamed and frustrated until my physician in Georgia recommended I attend the local United Ostomy Association (the precursor to UOAA) support group.

While living in Atlanta I became very involved with the UOA group and completed the visitor training program.  I enjoyed visiting new ostomates at the hospital. I felt the freedom to be involved because no one really knew me in Atlanta. I remained active until I relocated back to Ohio in 1985.  That same year I married my high school sweetheart and we will celebrate 36 years of marriage in November.

Although I was very private about my ostomy I was very successful in my career. I became the first African American female officer at our local bank and functioned in several positions without the exposure of my ileostomy.  After the downsizing of my employer, I later worked 10 years at Great Lake Cheese until retiring in 2016.

What is my purpose in life?  How can I make my mom proud?

I’ve enjoyed my life as an ostomate.  I love traveling, cruising and shopping.  I was known in the business community as a person that loved to dress. I taught Dress for Success at the bank for all new tellers.

The past few years were filled with so much grief, with the most current being the death of my mom on July 4th 2019, only three days after my 60th birthday.  I was feeling the deep void of losing a brother and both parents within 4 years, depression was setting in.  I had support but I felt helpless and lost.  What is my purpose in life?  How can I make my mom proud?

Most will remember 2020 as a horrific year with so much sickness, death and devastation from a deadly pandemic.  For me, I utilized the time to seriously seek God for a purpose in my life and being quarantined turned out to be a blessing in helping me find my purpose.

I knew my testimony would bring awareness and hope to so many people.

I became more involved via social media with other ostomates.  I’ve met some wonderful friends and it became rewarding to encourage others that had shared similar experiences as me.  My heart was really saddened when I read an article about a young man that had gone to court for the right to die because he didn’t want to live with an ostomy.  I wept.  Also seeing how some individuals can’t afford the basic ostomy supplies and had to use grocery store bags and tape to secure their ostomy bags was heartbreaking.  I knew then, that there was so much more I could do for the ostomy community.  I knew my testimony would bring awareness and hope to so many people.

As a member of Jearlean Taylor’s Ostomy Stylzz Facebook Group I participated in a virtual fashion show.  She is a personal inspiration to me and that show boosted my confidence to a much greater level.  I felt a relief to go public.  I chose August 14th, 2020 to go live on Facebook and share my story.  I felt such freedom once I finished.  There were family members, coworkers, church and community friends that responded and supported me in disbelief.  For the past 38 years, they never knew I had an ostomy.

One family friend messaged me and told me that he was scheduled for surgery but has canceled many times, but because of my video he felt he could now go through it.  I still check on him to make sure he’s not having any problems.  That made going public all worth it.  But what else could I do?

I decided to participate in the Run for Resilience Ostomy 5K.  I registered over 20 walkers to participate virtually in several cities and I exceeded my fundraising goal by almost 100%.  The highlight of the day was my local mayor stopping by to present me with a proclamation from the City of Warren in support of ostomy awareness. Our local newspaper also highlighted the event.

…because of my video he felt he could now go through it.

After posting my Ostomy Awareness Day photos and story on Facebook I was contacted by so many family and friends willing to support me in the future.

With the pandemic still active, I’ve been limited in getting out in the public but I do try to make an effort to encourage other ostomates daily.  I’ve connected with my local Affiliated Support Group leader and I’m looking forward to greater things once we can meet publicly.

On, March 6, 2021 I will be a 39-year ostomate.

I’m on Facebook and I have a Youtube video discussing my ostomy journey.

I’m free, living with my ostomy!

 

By Ellyn Mantell

Setting the scene for you, imagine the patient who has controlled ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease, or diverticulitis and is suddenly terribly symptomatic with infection and unremitting agonizing pain. Or consider the patient who has an accident in the intestinal region of their body. Or the patient who hears the news following a colonoscopy that there is colorectal cancer. Or the patient, like me, whose motility issues have made it impossible for the bowel to function. All of these scenarios are happening every day, all day, in hospitals and households and they all may very well lead to either a colostomy or ileostomy. (I believe a urostomy is always a permanent surgery)

Frequently, depending upon the physicality of the ostomy, a reversal in a matter of six months to a year is either discussed or promised to the patient. It is usually explained that for the connection to heal, it requires that time, and once healed, the reversal is smooth sailing. Except, in many cases, it is not, and that is what I want to bring to your attention, based on the people with whom I have spoken. Please remember, I am not a medical professional, but I interface closely with many patients in many situations, so I speak from my observations.

Sometimes, during those 6-12 months, the sphincter muscles of the rectum stop fully functioning, and the patient may be tied to the bathroom as never before. Or the connection is narrow and there may begin a pattern of bowel obstructions due to the backup of stool. Other times, the surgeon had good intentions for a reversal, but the patient is simply not a good candidate due to illness or stepping out of remission of some disease process.

The reason I am writing this graphic and perhaps uncomfortable blog for many to read is that an ostomy can happen to anyone for a variety of reasons. UOAA estimates there are 725,000 to one million of us in the United States who have ostomy or continent diversion surgery. I want to educate all ostomates that making peace with their new anatomy may be safer and provide a more predictable future than hopes for a reversal. I believe and have heard from others who give ostomy support that those who know they will be an ostomate for the rest of their life tend to be more open to embracing their new body, physically and emotionally. Those who have been given (false, in some cases) hope for a reversal are frequently disappointed and angry, feel betrayed and lose faith they will ever be “normal” again.

Support Groups are a wonderful way to begin to think of the new normal. It is so beneficial to meet like people, learn about appliances, clothing, foods, sleep, intimacy, maintaining health and to simply share experiences. If you cannot find one in your area, contact the United Ostomy Association of America or your local hospital. Take a family member, caregiver or friend if it gives you comfort. I guarantee you will feel empowered by taking this step, whether you are having a reversal in your future, or are embracing your ostomy for life.

Ellyn Mantell is a UOAA advocate and Affiliated Support Group leader from New Jersey. You can follow her personal blog at morethanmyostomy

 

 

 

You are not alone, A Community of Support is Here to Help

By Ellyn Mantell

Upon returning from a day of errands, my hands full of packages and bags of food, the phone rings, and it is a familiar call. It is from a woman who is fighting tears (this I recognize from the many calls I receive) and immediately, bags and packages left on the floor, I go into SUPPORT mode. I imagine this lady has used every bit of determination and perhaps energy she has to call a total stranger to discuss the most intimate details of her health and anatomy. She needs my full and undivided attention, because if I am remiss in that area, she may never reach out for help again. Before we even move past the pleasantries of conversation (hello, how are you?) I know she has been through so much. She will tell me the details, and each survivor is unique, but I already know she is scared, suffering and feeling terribly alone.

This lady tells me she is extremely disappointed because she just discovered that her colostomy, which resulted from the loss of some of her colon, will not be reversed, as she had hoped. It is too dangerous, and her ulcerative colitis is rearing its ugly head. Instead of the reversal, she needs her colon and rectum removed, and will, therefore, have an ileostomy. It has taken her a year, she tells me, to accept what she thought was a temporary colostomy, and now she will need a permanent ileostomy. Not only is her head spinning, but she is feeling like she has lost total control of her life.

These are feelings we all have, and my heart is right there with her as she laments the loss of yet another part of her body. Looking ahead to at least another major surgery, we discuss the fact that she is in mourning and grieving, and then her tears began to flow. I tell her to please cry, sob, let out her feelings, whatever they may be, I am up to the task of listening and comforting. After all, I have had 23 major abdominal surgeries…I have had my share of tears and need for comfort.

We end the phone call with each of us making a promise: she will attend our next Ostomy Support Group at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey, and I will be there to listen to her fears and concerns as long as she is in need of sharing them. I told her I wear a flower at each of the Support Group meetings I lead, because I have had so many sent to me over the years and that it is a great way of identifying myself to new members. Flowers always bring a smile to others. She will find me the day of the meeting, because I will be waiting in the foyer to bring her in, make her feel comfortable, introduce her to many like herself, and show her how special she is for reaching out and asking for SUPPORT!

Reach Out to a UOAA Affiliated Support Group near you and learn more about the emotional impact of ostomy surgery.

Ellyn Mantell is a UOAA advocate and Affiliated Support Group leader from New Jersey. You can follow her personal blog at morethanmyostomy

 

By Elaine O’Rourke

During the winter of 2005, I went from being an active, strong, 35-year-old yoga teacher to being completely debilitated, feeling like I was 100 years old and barely able to move or walk.

An extreme flare-up of Crohn’s disease resulted in a temporary ileostomy which was then made permanent after a year. I was down to skin and bones and had lost most of my muscle mass. My hips and whole body hurt when I slept as I was so skinny. There was very little that I could do. My body just needed to rest as it took too much energy for anything else.

When I began to regain my strength after my temporary ileostomy, I had a renewed appreciation for walking and what a good simple exercise it is. Just getting out for fresh air, step by step, seeing people and walking the beach. I had missed simply going to shops. Ahhh, to be able to move again, what a gift.

I had never considered going for my daily walk as a “gift” until I couldn’t do it. For many people, including myself, it’s not until things start going wrong that you realize how much you take your health for granted.

As I recovered I was able to slowly get back into my yoga practice and doing everything that I wanted to do. In fact, last year I started surfing which is now my greatest passion. It was previously the one thing I thought I could never do with an ostomy.

My point being, having an ostomy does not mean you can’t exercise or do sports. Just do them mindfully and within your limits. Taking good care of yourself is now of utmost importance. Real self-care not only addresses how we take care of our physical bodies but also how we deal with our emotions and how we think. After all, everything is connected.

Life with an ostomy has a lot of pent-up emotions, thoughts, and challenges. The physical body also holds on to memories and traumas within its cells. This is why you may experience or even hear of people who recall things when getting a massage, or you might start crying when you get bodywork done or when you are moving mindfully in a yoga class. The “feeling experience” is providing a release for these memories.

In my program “Surviving to Thriving: Overcoming Ostomy Challenges so you can Live a FulFilling Life” I focus a lot on the mental and emotional issues that occur but also on the importance of keeping active and making healthy lifestyle choices. As you journey into the New Year and decade what are the more tangible things you can do for your physical well-being? We all know that New Year’s resolutions go out the window by the second week in January, or that they never happen at all.

Instead, consider doing things that will contribute to your health and happiness and set a plan in place. If you find it hard to keep yourself motivated or don’t know where to start then reach out and contact me.

Strategy tips for self-care

1) Move your body
Buying a gym membership is useless– unless you use it! Our ancestors did not live sedentary lives, yet, these days in general, we are very attached to sitting around. Many people work at desks, sit in cars commuting and then sit on the couch to chill out! But our bodies are designed to MOVE.

Tip: Get up and walk around more, even set a chime to go off on your phone to remind yourself. As mentioned, walking is a great way to keep things moving and it’s free. Even a quick five-minute walk is beneficial. Meet a friend for a walk instead of coffee, or both! Move your arms over your head more. Add in some simple stretches. Basically, MOVE as much as you can as that is what our bodies are designed to do.

2) Food choice
If we think we are going to be “depriving” ourselves of something, then we will do anything we can to sabotage our best intentions. For example, If we say we are “giving up chocolate” then chances are we become obsessed with thinking about chocolate and our resolution only lasts a day! Your body is like a temple and keeping it healthy requires the right choices. This will affect your ostomy output, energy levels, muscles, organs, bones and joints.

Tip: Focus on adding in certain foods that you know will be healthier for you. Hint – these foods are mostly in the fresh produce sections of the supermarket. Before you eat and drink ask or even visualize how your body will respond, how your organs will feel, how well your GI tract will digest. Eat slowly, chew and enjoy your food. Notice how it affects your system, energy levels, and your ostomy output.

3) Make it fun
If you dread doing something, then it won’t get done. So find something that is enjoyable. Not everyone likes exercise or sports but there are many different ways that you can treat your body with more kindness.

Tip: Dancing is a great way to move. Maybe go out to hear live music where you can move on a dance floor, or take a dance class. Put music on at home that energizes you. Walk up and down the stairs a few more times. Use a fitbit watch as a way to incentivize yourself.

4) Schedule time for yourself
There are a lot of distractions that pop up during the day and before you know it, you haven’t done anything you intended to do and the checklist is still staring at you.

Tip: Schedule in your planner when you are going to do your (walk, fun movement, cardio class, yoga, meditation, etc.) Be consistent and try and have it at the same time and on the same days each week.

5) Know that you deserve it
There is nothing like a promise of a “treat” or “something special” or to plan out “bribery” if you do something! Self-discipline comes more naturally to some but it takes practice.

Tip: As you decide the new ways you are going to do things in 2020, also give yourself a promise of a self-care present when you complete your goals. As you try more nutritious food, exercising, moving your body (because that is what it is supposed to do) then treat yourself to a massage, tickets to a show, a work-out outfit (that you now must have because you actually enjoy exercise) a good book, and so on!

 

Elaine O’Rourke is the creator of the online holistic program “Surviving To Thriving: Overcoming Ostomy Challenges So You Can Live a FulFilling Life”. She is a certified Yoga Therapist & Teacher since 2003, Sound Healer, EFT & Reiki Practitioner, Recording Artist and International Retreat Leader. Her lighthearted and fun personality shines through her teachings/programs as she loves to inspire others. She is a contributing writer to the national Phoenix Magazine, presenter at the UOAA National Conference and speaker at Girls with Guts retreat.
A free guide is available: ‘3 simple ways to eliminate fears about your ostomy” by visiting Elaine’s website
www.ElaineOrourke.com
Elaine@ElaineOrourke.com

Give back to those in need with a gift to sustain this website and programs such as the Ostomy Patient Visiting Program

Gina Day, left, an ostomy nurse and affiliated support group leader confers with Certified Ostomy Visitor, Tim Slutter “It really takes another ostomate to help reassure new ostomates they are not alone and there are many others out there living a normal life. I hear time and time again how important this program is in making patients comfortable having an ostomy,” Tim says.

Imagine if everyone dealing with the emotions and physical changes of ostomy surgery could see a friendly face before them in their hospital room? Someone who knows what they are going through from their own experience and can tell them things will be alright – that they too can thrive in life with an ostomy. Someone who can listen to their feelings and make them feel less alone in those vulnerable first days.

Donate Today

UOAA’s Ostomy Patient Visiting Program is one of the most important services we provide through our over 300 Affiliated Support Groups (ASG). This program offers person-to-person support, reassurance and practical information to those who have or will have ostomy related surgery and their caregivers. Ostomy visitors who have completed UOAA’s Certified Visitors Training Course through their ASG will have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities, and will strive to be a central member of the ostomy patient’s rehabilitation team (includes the surgeon, WOC nurse, hospital floor nurse and ostomy visitor.)

Your gift will enable UOAA to continue to provide services, such as this website filled with trusted information, and our Ostomy Patient Visiting Program. One of our goals is to update the certification course training manual and instructional video, and make the training program more internet-friendly which is critical to its future success. With the estimated 100,000 ostomy surgeries performed annually, it is vital for ASGs to have access to an up-to-date course to teach key skills to those who would like to become certified ostomy visitors. Click to donate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is your opportunity to make a difference, providing a vision of hope and reassurance to new ostomates and their caregivers that they are not alone. Thank you for your support.

United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. (UOAA) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and all donations are tax-deductible. For more information about giving to UOAA click here.
Please think of UOAA in your year-end giving plans and this #GivingTuesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Steven Berit

I fainted the first time I lost a tooth. Not from the actual pain of the removal, but from the sight of the blood dripping from my mouth. I also fainted during a health talk in the sixth grade. Most people would call me “squeamish,” and I would agree. The sight of blood or even the mention of anything related to the human body can easily send me into a spiral of emotions typically resulting in me waking up in the nurse’s office. So, you can imagine my apprehension when the doctors first suggested the idea of me receiving a colectomy.

Hi, I’m Steven Berit. I’m eighteen years old and I am a senior in high school. I live in Pennsylvania with my mom, my dad, and my sister when she is home from college. I live a pretty “normal” life. I go to school, play football, and hang out with friends just like anyone else my age would do. The only difference between me and everyone else is that I have an ostomy bag and they don’t. This small detail isn’t even noticeable for most, but at first, it certainly was noticeable to me.

I was sixteen when I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. The next year and a half would be full of trial and error, and with each passing day the errors stuck out more and more. Mesalamine, Remicade, Entyvio, and Xeljanz were just a few of the never-ending drugs that I was prescribed. The only thing that seemed to be working was steroids, but both my doctors and my acne-ridden face agreed that this was not a permanent solution. Finally, in July of 2019 while in my latest stint on the 5th floor of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, I made the decision to say good-bye to my very inflamed, friend- my colon.

I don’t remember much of the first night following the surgery, but the next couple of days stick out in my mind vividly. Well, I mean I clearly remember the restless nights. As for the actual stoma itself, this took me some time before I had my first encounter with it eye-to-eye or eye-to-intestine in this case. The second night was one of the worst nights of my life. I guess the anesthesia had worn off and with it came the regret. Yes, that second night I thought I made the biggest mistake of my life. There I laid in a hospital bed way too small for my eighteen-year-old frame contemplating if I could ever recover from this setback in my life.

Well, the sun rose and with it time for my first bag change. I remember screaming- a lot. They told me that the stoma couldn’t feel pain, but what they failed to mention was that I could still feel the pain of my hair ripping off my body as they pulled the adhesive off my skin. Trust me your average eighteen-year-old boy has plenty of hair to go around, but your eighteen-year-old boy that has been steroids for the last year and change has more hair than one would openly like to admit. But, as the bag came off, I got my first glimpse of my future in the form of a beautiful, red stump known as my stoma.

The next couple of weeks would come and go with relatively little struggle, but as summer came to an end my biggest challenge approached- going to school. I tried every possible combination of tucking my bag into my pants until I came to the realization that no one cared. Either people didn’t take notice of the bag of stool attached to my body or they too were busy and caught up with their own lives to care about what secret I kept hidden behind my shirt. It was my first time since being diagnosed with UC where I felt “normal” at school. Which was odd because to most this was the least “normal” I had ever been.

No, my journey with my ostomy was not one I would describe as love at first sight. But it has grown on me over time. Yes, I still need my parents help to change my bag every three days, but the once shrieks of pain have now subsided into murmurs. I now go to school every day like a new person. I no longer have fears of finding where the nearest bathroom is or if I am going to be able to take a test for thirty minutes without a wave of urgency coming over me forcing me to drop everything and make a mad dash to the nearest restroom. Instead, most days go by without any thoughts of UC or stomas crossing my mind.

As I come closer every day to my reversal surgery in December, I begin to wonder if I would be able to live with this bag for the rest of my life, and after some thought, I honestly believe I would be able to. UC has taught me over the years that I can overcome anything and the ostomy bag was just the latest thing I had to overcome. If I can go from fainting over a loose tooth to conquering a disease that once bullied me then I can overcome any challenges that may come my way. The once terrifying ostomy bag has become a cherished friend of mine who I will never forget even when it is gone. I cried when I had my first tooth removed. I may also cry when I have my ostomy removed, but I think these tears will fall for a completely different reason.

Colonel Justin Blum with Introduction by retired Navy Veteran Douglas R. Stocks

I’ve known Colonel Justin Blum for almost ten years and have learned much of his story over those years. For UOAA’s observance of Veterans Day, I asked Justin to share his story in greater depth. It is typical for us to remember our Veterans as heroes, but we don’t think or even imagine that they also may have been through a life-altering illness or traumatic event resulting in an ostomy. My wife Joanna (an ostomate) and I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Justin and his wife Leah after the Durham Run for Resilience 5K this past October. I was reminded that evening of the hero that Justin truly is, and felt it was time that others knew the story of this humble and well-respected man.

In 1993, when Justin was a Major on active duty in the US Army, he underwent surgery for an ileostomy due to ulcerative colitis (UC) which had progressed to colon cancer. Justin’s ostomy did not slow him down and he became one of the most respected officers in the state of South Carolina and the only member of the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) cadre with an ostomy.  Justin has had a highly successful career and life of public service. Justin has faced the gamut of living with a chronic illness, to receiving a devastating diagnosis, to ostomy surgery, to survival and finally triumph.

Here is his story:

In the Fall of 1971, I was a freshman at Morris Harvey College in Charleston, West Virginia. I was feeling the stress of being away from home for the first time in my life and of getting adjusted to college life.  I began noticing blood in the toilet after every bowel movement. I told my parents, who took me to a gastroenterologist during my Thanksgiving vacation at home. The gastroenterologist performed a sigmoidoscopy and determined that I had proctitis, an inflammation of the rectum and anus.

I transferred to Rider University in Trenton, NJ, for my second freshman semester to be closer to home, a decision made easier by the fact that Rider had an excellent ROTC program. I suffered with the proctitis and colitis for the next four years with only a prescription for the anti-inflammatory drug Azulfidine to combat the disease. In June of 1975, I underwent my physical exam at Fort Dix, NJ, to go into active duty in the Army. In the course of the physical, the Army doctor performed a rectal exam, and asked, “Do you know what you have?”  I acknowledged that I had colitis. In one of those strange twists of fate, my passion for serving the Army outweighed the colitis so the examining doctor wrote “Fit for Duty”.

For the next twenty years I hid my ulcerative colitis from the Army.  On days that I had attacks, I would explain that I was feeling bad due to having had too much scotch the night before.  Stationed in South Korea in 1976/1977, all too often upon returning to the camp motor pool after patrolling along the DMZ, I would have such severe diarrhea that I could not make it to the latrine and instead would jump into the nearest garbage bin since it was the closest “facility” I could find. I spent the next 13 years seeing civilian gastroenterologists for the colitis and who continued to prescribe Azulfidine. Finally, in 1990, my colitis was so bad I sought help at Eisenhower Army Hospital at Fort Gordan, Georgia where I began seeing Major Armstrong, a gastroenterologist, who informed me that due to my heath condition, resulting from severe flare-ups of UC, he strongly recommended surgery for an ileostomy.  My reaction, not unusual I am sure for people receiving this news, was an immediate, “No! Unless I have one foot in the grave with my back against the wall, I refuse to have this surgery resulting in my living with an ostomy bag!” This was twenty years after my first diagnosis of UC in November 1971. However, just a few years later after a colonoscopy, Major Armstrong told me that I needed ostomy surgery as soon as possible.

On February 28, 1993, I had surgery to remove my entire colon due to UC, which had advanced to colon cancer, and I was left with an ileostomy. As was not uncommon in those days, and even sadly still happens today, I had only one session with the ostomy nurse on how to manage my ostomy.  The day after surgery, I developed a leak in my appliance and called for the nurse, but no one responded.  I looked at myself in the latrine mirror with my ostomy bag hanging down, and I thought I looked like the Elephant Man.  After 10 days I was discharged but did not have access to an ostomy nurse or assistance of any kind except for follow up appointments three hours away at Eisenhower Hospital. I wanted to continue to serve on active duty, so I put my mind toward getting in the best physical condition possible. I started walking 9 miles a day, passed my physical fitness test, and was able to stay on active duty. In 1995 I was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and in 1996 retired from active duty and transferred to reserve status, continuing to work for the US Army as a high school JROTC Instructor.

Life as an ostomate was fine except that I was experiencing pain from irritation of the skin around my stoma and I did not know of any ostomy nurses in the local hospitals and I didn’t know where to turn for help except for the still fledgling Internet of 1996. I was able to find a Crohn’s/Colitis chatroom on AOL (America Online). In that chatroom I was able to talk with numerous people who had either an ileostomy or a colostomy. On one occasion, an experienced ostomate was able to talk me through the steps to alleviate an intestinal blockage saving me a trip to the emergency room.  I was able to find an ostomy support group at the local hospital, but because they met at 10:00 AM and I was working an hour away, I was unable to attend their meetings. Despite all I learned from online resources I was still plagued with skin irritation around my stoma site which continued for the next 10 plus years.

Life took a turn for the better when in 2010, I received a letter from the nurse who ran the local ostomy support group, which talked about (the now former) Great Comebacks Program; a national honor program started by ostomate and former point kicker for the San Diego Chargers, Rolf Benirschke. This program recognized people who had lived an exemplary and inspiring life while living with an ostomy.  In 2011 I was the recipient of the Tony Snow Public Service Award, a subgroup of the Great Comebacks Program which emphasizes those in uniform living with an ostomy.

However, it was not the award that changed things for me, it was my ongoing communication with the ostomy nurses that I met through this program who eventually solved the problem of the skin irritation and pain that I had struggled with for so many years.

I have accomplished more in my life as an ostomate as a result of the care I have been able to obtain since my story was brought to the national level. If not for my quality of life-improving dramatically as a result of this assistance, these accomplishments would not have become a reality.  I owe so much to three WOC nurses: Donna Sellers, Joanna Burgess, and Joy Hooper. I met them through the Great Comebacks program, and they have always offered their help readily.  I have now been free from pain for the past nine years.

There are many who do not have the same easy access to professionals that I have had. I am very fortunate! That is why I believe everyone should seek out or become involved with a community of ostomates either through an online support group or hospital-based support group if possible. All ostomates should help other ostomates achieve the quality of life made possible by their life-saving surgery. Having UC and then colon cancer at age 40 meant years of pain and discomfort in my life. Ostomy surgery gave me a new life. Before I retired from teaching, I used my experience with my ostomy to motivate my JROTC cadets, inspiring them to never give up on anything and reminding them they can accomplish anything they set their mind to.  I no longer see myself as the Elephant Man, but as a man with a beautiful wife, supportive children and two amazing grandchildren.  Life is good!

The UOAA thanks you for your service Colonel Justin Blum and honors your accomplishments!

  • 1995 – Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel
  • 1996 – Retired from active duty; continued to work for the US Army as an Army JROTC instructor in the United States Army Cadet Command.
  • 2003-Named the United States Army JROTC Senior Instructor of the year
  • 2009 – Promoted to Colonel, in the South Carolina State Guard
  • 2010- Named Volunteer of the Year for the State of South Carolina
  • 2011- Named US Army JROTC Senior Instructor of the Year for the second time.
  • 2011 – Named the Tony Snow recipient for Public Service
  • 2019 – Lawson R. McElroy Award for Engaged Learning

 

Living 10 steps from death’s door can take an emotional toll. My name is Makeda Armorer-Wade and I am an inspirational life coach and best-selling author. In July 2010, I received my first ostomy and January 2016, I received my second. While both surgeries were difficult physically as well as emotionally; my first was more difficult than the second, because I was not included in the decision in any way. It was an emergency surgery following a resection surgery a week earlier. The decision was made during a follow-up test and they were actually drawing on my belly in the elevator on my way up to the room. It landed me in the ICU and 10 steps from death’s door.

The second ostomy surgery was a decision that I made based on the recommendation from my GYN and surgeon. I was so debilitated that this was my only option. So although it was very difficult, it was less traumatic than the first, because I was involved in the decision and I thought I knew what I could expect.

I went to the United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA) and read everything that I could. I went to what I call, “Ostomy School.” I did my best to connect with patients who were having a similar experience. Because I have lived with a Crohn’s disease diagnosis from the age of 16; I’ve understood the necessity to research and learn all that I can to manage my condition. Crohn’s disease was not a common diagnosis at the time I was diagnosed, and giving up wasn’t an option for me. Connecting with others and gaining knowledge was freeing. The more I learned, the more comfortable I became with living and embracing life with my new friend (ostomy) Rosebutt Buttercup. Yes, I named her. I was able to support new ostomates by participating in the monthly Mt. Sinai post-surgical support group.

Having my second ostomy has given me the freedom to go back to work, take care of my family, swim, cycle, attend social gatherings, participate in community service and travel. Sometimes listening to the despair of my fellow ostomates and experiencing my own despair at times, for lack of knowledge is what spurred me into action. I wanted to be an example, that there is still life to be lived after an ostomy. Our mindset is important. Where our mind goes, the body follows. Life is what we make of it.

As an author, coach and public speaker. I use my platform to share my story, as evidence that life can be all the things that you are open to making it. I am advocating for sponsorship to release a course that will be available for a small fee, to anyone who has an ostomy, considering getting one or a caretaker of someone who has one.

The biggest positive about living with an ostomy is understanding that without it, I would not be here. The first one was reversed, but as I moved toward having my second one I knew enough and it was the only way. I made the decision to move forward and I am not looking back. I had to embrace that I was enough and the new possibilities for my life were endless.

I realized that as long as I follow my P.L.A.N.(c), I have fewer challenges. I Prepare by anticipating each scenario; I Let go of Shame for all of the things that I can’t always do; I Ask for help when needed; and I Never give up no matter what. Repetition breeds mastery.

So, I share with others that having an ostomy is just an alternative way of going to the bathroom. We all have to go the bathroom. But now, I have the benefit of having more control over when I go. An ostomy is life-saving. An ostomy is an opportunity to really live your best life on purpose.

And while you may not feel that way in the beginning. It does get better. My advice as an experienced ostomate, is to get as much information about your surgery prior to getting it, if time allows. Speak to people who are successfully living with and managing their life with their ostomy. Read, watch videos and ask as many questions as you may have. And then work your P.L.A.N.(c). Be inspired, Be encouraged, Be hopeful. I believe in you. The possibilities are endless.

Events

In celebration of World Ostomy Day, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation and UOAA are partnering to bring you a Facebook Live Chat on Saturday, October 2nd at 12:00pm (Noon) Eastern Time, 11:00am Central Time. Join us for a conversation with a panel of speakers to raise awareness about living with IBD and an ostomy.

Our panel will feature Dr. Mukta Krane, with the University of Washington, John Nixon, a Crohn’s disease patient, and Linda Coulter, WOCN with University Hospitals’ Ahuja Medical Center.

To Watch Live please go to: https://www.facebook.com/ccfafb

Ever wonder how age, culture, sexual orientation, gender, or socioeconomic status impact the #ostomy experience?

With this year’s #WorldOstomyDay focused on #ostomate rights being #humanrights, Girls With Guts (GWG) and UOAA have teamed up to explore this question and more as we host a chat on the intersectional aspects of living with #IBD and an ostomy.

Join us on Monday, September 27th from 8-9pm EST / 5-6pm PST when UOAA Patient Advisor & GWG Community Connection Liaison, Tina Aswani-Omprakash (South Asian Crohn’s & ostomy advocate), will host Jenice Diaz (Afro/Indo Latina Crohn’s & ostomy advocate), Jeanne Dagna (#LGBTQ Crohn’s & ostomy advocate), and Diana Boogaard (Vietnamese #IBDMom and UC, #jpouch & ostomy advocate)!

Whether you are new to the community or have been living with an ostomy and/or IBD for years, this is a powerful conversation you won’t want to miss! Join us on FB LIVE on www.facebook.com/ibdgirls or www.facebook.com/UOAAinc!

#IBDgirls #UOAA #GWGCC #IBD #UlcerativeColitis #Crohns #IBDWarrior #diversity #inclusion #OstomyRights #WorldOstomyDay2021 #MyAccessMatters

This year many associations around the world are raising awareness on how IBD impacts a person´s general well-being. Follow hashtags such as #breakthesilence #worldibdday2021 and #IBDVisible to celebrate the day. Check back here on ostomy.org on May 19th for information about brand new website resources for the IBD and ostomy community. In the United States be sure to check out activities organized by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation.

What happens around the world?