Every time you make a gift to health care, you’re impacting the life of someone who needs you. Whether you’re making a gift to care, wellness or research, you’re standing up to challenge the status quo for people living with chronic diseases. People like Krista.
In the months that led up to her wedding, Krista was going through some of the worst pain of her life since her diagnosis with Crohn’s disease at the age of nine.
Approximately 135,000 Canadians are living with Crohn’s disease. It is a lifelong inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the digestive tract. It leads to symptoms like abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue and malnutrition.
Having grown up in a small east coast town with limited medical specialization, Krista’s initial symptoms had been difficult to diagnose. She was very petite, weighing 55 lbs, and would come home from school and immediately take a nap. She was always tired with a sore stomach and it was impacting Krista’s favourite activities like going to dance class.
She was finally able to go to the closest children’s hospital and be diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. At that time, she was extremely underweight and malnourished. With limited treatment options available at the time, Krista’s family opted for a feeding tube, which she had for three-and-a-half years. In the beginning, she was using the feeding tube daily for 20 hours. The four hours she spent disconnected were when her mom would plan playdates or dance after school.
Krista remembers the first day she came home as a nine-year-old with a feeding tube. “I felt like an alien.”
She has vivid memories of being at a birthday party at a swimming pool. She was able to swim, but when the pizza and cake came out, she had to sit and watch as her friends enjoyed one of the most important rituals of a childhood birthday party.
After living with Crohn’s disease through middle school, high school and university and exploring different treatments, Krista eventually moved to Calgary to pursue her education and working as a teacher. It was then that her symptoms took a turn for the worse. “I was in a lot of pain. There was a bulge on my side,” Krista explains. That was when she had her second bowel resection surgery which removed any parts of the diseased bowel. This was leading to issues with blockages and strictures which caused the pain and bulging on her side.
“I had some complications after that – I lost a lot of blood and needed a transfusion. Then during recovery then I had pneumonia. Coming out of surgery was when I started dealing with incontinence.” Unfortunately, as she recovered, Krista’s symptoms continued to impact her day-to-day life, including needing to leave her classrooms between a lesson to go throw up, and then come back and teach.
At that time in her life, Krista was asking herself big questions. “I was wondering how much longer I could go until there’s nothing left of me. I couldn’t understand why this was happening and had never thought my disease would get to this point. I couldn’t leave my house without a diaper, so I didn’t go out besides going to work. I had nausea and no appetite.”
She consulted her specialist team at Foothills Medical Centre, who were at first skeptical at her interest in getting an ileostomy surgery.
An ileostomy is an opening in the abdominal wall where the small bowel is brought through to form a stoma. Intestinal waste passes through the stoma and is collected in a prosthetic pouch called an ‘ostomy bag’ that is attached to the abdomen. Because of her young age of 26, doctors felt that it was a big decision, but Krista knew that she wanted to walk down the aisle without a diaper for her wedding that was coming up soon.
Krista had a temporary stoma procedure, as one day she would like to have a family.
“Since having my ostomy I’ve been feeling the best that I’ve felt in a really long time despite the fact that my Crohn’s journey has been most of my life,” she explains.
“Just because I’ve had surgery doesn’t mean it’s a cure. The inflammation can come back anywhere in the GI tract. It’s always a learning experience.”
Krista has built an incredible social media profile where she connects with other “ostomates” from around the world through her candid conversations and vibrant nature. She’s an advocate for ostomy and GI education and has even helped develop content an app for resources for others living with IBD and Crohn’s disease.
When it comes to making a difference in the health of Albertans, every little bit has the potential to make a big impact – and it’s never been easier.