By Liana Jacob
MEET THIS stunning teaching assistant whose undiagnosed Crohn’s disease caused her weight to drop to FIVE-STONE leaving doctors convinced she was anorexic.
Teaching assistant, Bethany Gallagher (23), from Sheffield, UK, was only 15-years-old when she began experiencing severe acid reflux and despite being given anti-acid medication by her doctors, the symptoms got progressively worse.
A month later, she started having abdominal pains and she was in so much pain she had to drop out of school, as the pain got worse. She threw up regularly and had to go to the toilet over forty times a day, she couldn’t keep food down and the thought of eating terrified her.
Within a month, she lost 3st and her weight decreased to just 5st and a UK size four, which prompted her GP to think she had anorexia and was told to put on more weight.
Following regular trips to the hospital for tests, colonoscopies, endoscopies, biopsies, MRI scans, CT scans and camera tests, she was finally diagnosed in 2010, when she was 16-years-old, with Crohn’s disease, a lifelong condition in which parts of digestive system become inflamed.
In April 2017, she got a loop ileostomy, which is where the end of the small intestine is cut and joined with the large intestine. Half a thread of it goes through the abdominal wall and a bag is attached on top which is where faeces will come out of it.
She has since received various treatments to help reduce her symptoms and has had a lot of support from her family and friends, including her boyfriend of 10 years, Mike, who has stood by her side throughout her journey since they first started dating in 2009. She is now a healthy 8st 7Ibs and a UK dress size 10.
“At the age of fifteen my life turned upside down; I’d struggled to come to terms with living with one chronic illness (arthritis) but then I started having horrendous acid reflux,” Bethany said.
“I went to the GP and they gave me some anti-acid tablets, which I took for a few months only to find that the drug wasn’t working and if anything, it was getting much, much worse.
“I returned to the GP to be put on a higher dose of anti-acid treatment, however, a month on I started having severe abdominal pains which caused me to cripple over in pain.
“I stopped going to school, by this time I was just starting my GCSEs, developing new friendships, just got a boyfriend and learning who I was as a person.
“My life quickly stopped as the abdominal pains got worse; I started throwing up luminous green liquid and began going to the toilet over forty times a day.
“I went back to the GP with my mum as she was at her wits end, we were both in distress. I couldn’t keep food down and the thought of food scared me to death.
“Within a month I lost three-stone. The GP thought I had anorexia, I protested but no one believed that this weight loss was completely out of my control.
“The GP told my mum and I that they wanted me to put on a certain amount of weight within a certain period or I would be admitted to the children’s hospital and I would need a feeding tube inserted.
“It got to the point where I was rushed in and out of the children’s hospital A&E department. I went under countless tests, colonoscopies, endoscopies, biopsies, MRI scans, CT scans and camera tests.
“Finally, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in the small intestine. Although it was a massive shock that I’d been diagnosed at the age of sixteen (a day after my sixteenth birthday), I was so relieved.
“I didn’t care what it took, I just wanted to get better again, and I wanted to get my life back on track. I was put on an all-liquid diet to see if that could combat and calm down my Crohn’s disease.
“There are some people that like to say ‘all good things come to end’ but in 2016 my Crohn’s disease symptoms came back with a vengeance.
“The same symptoms; acid reflux, crippling abdominal pains, uncontrollable diarrhoea came back in the same form. This time with lots of blood in my poo.
“I was admitted to hospital and the tests started again; similar tests as before for them to diagnose where the Crohn’s had returned.
“The disease had returned to my small intestine but also my large intestine, causing perianal (rectum) Crohn’s disease, so I began my journey in and out of hospital.
“After staying in the hospital for two weeks, I would live off IV steroids, I was discharged from hospital on oral steroids for eight weeks and once I’d stop the oral steroids I would be straight back into hospital and this was repeated for the rest of the year.
“I couldn’t take it, so in early 2017 it was decided I would become a bag lady and have my first ileostomy, a loop ileostomy.”
The idea of this made Bethany uncomfortable, but since her boyfriend had supported this and suggested she got a stoma bag, she has now been embracing her journey by posting pictures of her bag on her Instagram profile @thefoulbowel.
“He has been my rock and I couldn’t do it without him. For months before I was told I had to have an ileostomy, Mike actually came to me and said that he wanted me to get a stoma bag as he had looked into it and it made people feel a lot better,” she said.
“He was the first person to look at my changed stomach and stoma bag when I woke up from surgery and he is part of the reason I’m so confident.
“I panicked because I didn’t understand Crohn’s disease since I was so young. All I heard of it back then was it was a ‘pooing disease’.
“I didn’t want to have to change my life at sixteen because of another condition and I was scared for the future.
“People around me were amazing. School made changes for me regarding exams and my friends and family didn’t care and we’re just glad I could finally get help.
“I’m happy I live with a permanent stoma bag because without it I’d be dead, it doesn’t change me as a person, if anything it makes me a stronger person.
“It means having a daily reminder on my stomach that life is worth living. It reminds me that I once thought I’d never make it, but I have.
“I decided to stand and embrace it so other people would hopefully learn to embrace it to. I wanted to raise awareness about the harsh reality of Crohn’s but to also show sufferers that you can still live a normal life with a stoma.
“I’ve battled my whole life with arthritis, I’ve battled people staring at my limp, my swollen joints, being different and that’s what made me strong.
“Why did we hold on for so long if we don’t show the world now what we are made of? Be proud of your stoma, be proud of your new body because without it you wouldn’t be here.”