A mum who has Crohn’s disease so severe that she became reliant on adult nappies has had surgery to remove several major digestive organs.
Ashley Strickland, 34, was suddenly struck down by severe stomach pain in 2010, which tests showed was ulcerative colitis – a long-term condition where the bowel becomes inflamed.
The network marketer saw her symptoms disappear within weeks, without medical help, but they returned five years later.
Ashley was left with uncontrollable diarrhoea, which saw her rushing to the toilet 20 times a day and twice landed her in intensive care.
The mum-of-two from North Carolina was then diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a lifelong condition affecting the digestive system.
Ashley had ileostomy surgery to divert her bowel through an opening in her abdomen called a stoma, where a special bag was attached to collect waste.
She then had J-Pouch surgery to remove her colon and rectum and create a pouch connecting the small intestine to the anus, eliminating the need for a permanent stoma.
Sadly, it did not suit her and, in May this year, she made the decision to return to using a bag – having surgery to completely remove her anus and close her buttocks.
Ashley said: ‘At first, I couldn’t accept having an ileostomy bag. I felt like it was robbing me of my entire life.
‘But when I realised a J-Pouch wasn’t working for me either because of all the leaking, I knew I had to go back to having a bag because I knew my quality of life would be so much better.
‘I’ve had most of my colon, rectum, and anus removed, so doctors thought it was best to surgically close my buttocks. I look the same as everyone else, but there’s just no hole there anymore – it’s just like a Barbie bum.
‘It’s completely transformed my life. Now, I want to be a positive influence and show that ileostomy bags shouldn’t be taboo.’
Initially, Ashley was prescribed a course of steroids, which made little difference.
‘I was so sick all the time and couldn’t stop going to the toilet,’ she said.
‘One time, we were on a family road trip and I ended up using one of the children’s nappies as I needed to go so suddenly.’
Over the next 10 months, Ashley lost 20 pounds, became increasingly fatigued, and ended up in intensive care twice when her blood pressure dropped to a dangerously low level as her body was unable to retain adequate fluids and nutrients.
With her health rapidly deteriorating, she had no choice but to have ileostomy surgery.
Following her operation, Ashley’s colon was biopsied and it was confirmed that she had Crohn’s disease in addition to ulcerative colitis.
Devastated by the diagnosis, she struggled to adapt to her new normal.
‘I hated the bag as soon as I saw it. I didn’t want to be reliant on it for the rest of my life,’ she said.
‘I was really low and felt ill all the time.’
So in July in 2017, Ashley decided to have her bag replaced with a J-Pouch – a common alternative that preserves the anus and sphincter muscles, meaning people are able to go to the toilet normally, without needing a waste bag.
But as the operation had involved removing her rectum – the part of the digestive system that lets the body know there is waste needing to be passed – she was soon hit by new side effects.
‘Sometimes, during the night I would start leaking,’ she said. ‘My husband was brilliant. He’d scoop me up, put me in the shower, and change the bedsheets, but I hated it and felt so embarrassed.
‘I had to wear adult nappies and couldn’t do any exercise.
‘It was really painful. I felt like a sick mummy. I wasn’t able to play with my children for fear of having an accident.
‘But despite me having such low confidence, it actually made my relationship with my husband stronger.
‘He was phenomenal. He was always there to take care of me.’
With her self-esteem in tatters, Ashley eventually decided to return to having an ileostomy bag.
Medics were able to remove the pouch that had been created using her small intestine and instead divert it out of the body via a new opening in her stomach.
Her latest operation has left her feeling more confident than ever.
She added: ‘Getting a bag for a second time actually made me feel empowered. This time, I’d chosen to have it, it wasn’t something that was just thrust upon me.’
Ashley has been posting snaps showing her bag on social media, where posts about her journey have attracted hundreds of followers.
Now, by sharing her story, she hopes to encourage people to celebrate their differences.
She continued: ‘I feel so empowered these days. My bag is as much a part of me as my arms and legs.
‘It’s not a taboo, it’s a lifesaver – and you should never be ashamed of that.’
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