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Photo Cred:  Dave Camara / Camara Photography

 

By Ed Pfueller, UOAA Communications & Outreach Manager

If you’re looking for Patrick McKinney you’ll likely find him outdoors. Depending on the season, McKinney, 54, of New Market, Maryland, can be found speeding down a ski slope, powering up a hill on his bike, tending to horses, or photographing his daughters playing sports.

That wasn’t always the case.  In 1984, as a 17-year-old, while donating at a high school blood drive, he was found to be anemic. The formerly active teen had been experiencing incontinence with blood loss for 18-24 months and was afraid to tell anyone.  After confiding in his mother and seeking a diagnosis, a colonoscopy revealed ulcerative colitis. By his mid-twenties he found himself hospitalized several times after his body stopped responding to conventional steroid-based therapies.  In 1993 he had the first of five surgeries that over the years eventually led to a temporary ostomy and a j-pouch. He was plagued by stricture problems and other issues with the j-pouch. “With the j-pouch I was still going to the bathroom 15-20 times a day when it was bad,” McKinney remembers. When another surgery was required in 2004 because his j-pouch perforated leaving him septic, his doctor at the Cleveland Clinic prepared him for the fact that depending on how it went, McKinney could wake up with a permanent ileostomy.

“It’s like being a kid again, wind blowing in your hair takes you back to your teenage years”

Indeed that was what happened and he experienced the struggles so many new ostomates have while trying to adjust both mentally and physically. McKinney now says, “Getting an ostomy was the best thing that ever happened to me, I got my life back.”

McKinney credits reading Rolf Bernirschke’s book Alive & Kicking for encouraging him to not be held back by his ostomy. “His book got my life back on a normal track. I started being an advocate and lived life again.” McKinney recalls.

McKinney wrote to Rolf and was honored to receive a Great Comebacks Eastern Region Award in 2008, which included the chance to meet the inspiring former NFL Man of the Year.  Since then he has embraced taking part in sports he had never even tried before having ostomy surgery.

McKinney’s first major post-surgery athletic challenge was competing in a half-marathon in Sonoma, California in 2009. The success of it inspired him to try other competitive sports. A family ski trip to Colorado piqued his interest in alpine ski racing. After entering an amateur event in 2014, he was surprised to learn his time qualified for nationals in his age group. After that he was hooked on “running gates.” McKinney has been alpine racing ever since and is a member of NASTAR’s Team Zardoz and the United Ski And Snowboard Association (USSA) Mid-Atlantic Masters Ski Racing Association and trains at Montage Mountain in Scranton, PA.

During the rest of the year, McKinney can most often be found on his bicycle touring the rolling hills of rural Maryland. As a member of the Frederick (Maryland) Pedalers Bicycle Club he rides over 3000 miles per year including events like the Tour de Frederick and the Civil War Century.

“It’s like being a kid again, wind blowing in your hair takes you back to your teenage years,” he says. For those hesitant to try riding again McKinney advises “Being prepared helps to put your mind at ease.” “Have a plan and know where the bathrooms are at local parks, I empty right before to go out. The back pocket on a cycling jersey is perfect for bringing extra supplies and wipes. My ileostomy tends to not have much output when I’m being active.”

In 2019 McKinney heard that UOAA’s National Conference was coming to Philadelphia, PA and welcomed the opportunity to see Rolf again and check out the unique event. Talking to other ostomates at the conference inspired him to do more with UOAA. “It helped me realize this is a chance to see what I can do, and that it is the right time to get more involved with the Frederick Area Ostomy Support Group.” McKinney has been an active member and is now the group’s President, supporting their activities even as in-person meetings were suspended this past year. In just the past few years he has offered his perspective as an ostomate to nursing students at a local community college and as an ostomy patient visitor. In support of Ostomy Awareness Day, he helped to procure proclamations from local government and organized a walk for the Run for Resilience Ostomy 5k, a major fundraiser for the programs and services of UOAA.

“Getting an ostomy was the best thing that ever happened to me, I got my life back.”

“The biggest thing is to provide some hope.  Almost everyone is devastated and so unsure about how to live through this experience,” McKinney says. On a national level, McKinney is now a member of the United Ostomy Associations of America Education Committee.

“I try to lead through living my best life. Sharing what I can do, but also keeping in mind to listen to your body. Get out there and walk, or ride on a bike.  For most, an ostomy will not impact that, I try to be encouraging and positive.”

His advice for other ostomates looking to get active? “Your only limitation is your mind.  If your doc says you are healthy enough do it, hydrate, hydrate, and always be prepared.”

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