Aspiring model brings awareness to Crohn’s Disease

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A 23-year-old makeup artist based in Worcester, Bethany Townsend, has brought awareness to Crohn’s disease.

She has suffered with the disease since the age of three, but received misdiagnoses until she was 11 years old. She then required emergency surgery to removes 16 inches of her bowel. She thought that her dreams of becoming a model were finally over when she had to have two colostomy bags fitted during a lifesaving operation when she was 19.

A colostomy is a surgical procedure during which one end of the large intestine is diverted into an opening on the abdomen of the patient. A small pouch is placed over the stoma to collect waste that would normally have been passed through the person’s rectum and anus whilst using the toilet. An ileostomy is a procedure which is very similar, but it applies to the small intestine.

The use of a colostomy bag allows the inflamed colon sections to heal. It is often required by those who suffer from bowel cancer, Crohn’s, diverticulitis and colitis.
A colostomy may be a temporary or permanent situation. According to the NHS, around 6400 permanent procedures are conducted in the UK annually.

Crohn’s disease is named after its founder, Dr. Burrill B Crohn. It is a chronic disease which causes the lining of the gastrointestinal tract to become inflamed. This hampers the ability of the person to digest food, absorb nutrients and eliminate waste. Any part of the digestive system could be affected by the disease, but it is most prevalent in the colon or the last section of the small intestine, the ileum.

The symptoms of the disease include diarrhoea, abdominal pain, weight loss, mucus or blood in the stool and fatigue. Young children who suffer from the disease may be affected by a delay in growth and development. More severe cases of the disease could cause the anus lining to tear which causes bleeding and severe pain during bowel movements.

The cause of the disease is not known, however, evidence points to previous infections, genetics, previous infections, smoking and environmental factors. The disease is most prevalent among white adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 35. It is most common to westernized countries. Although Crohn’s is not prevalent in Africa, Dr Herbert Schneider, a gastroenterologist based at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg states that about seven in 100000 South Africans suffer with the disease. This implies that around 3500 people are diagnosed on an annual basis.

Currently, there is no cure for the disease, but treatment is targeted at stopping inflammation and the avoidance of surgery.

Bethany Townsend went through several unsuccessful treatment methods to try and fight the disease. She has tried methotrexate, infliximab and steroids and was even tube-fed for about four years, however, after all these treatments and surgical procedures for the removal of the damaged intestinal sections, her bowel ruptured.

This resulted in her having a colostomy during which the damaged section of her intestine was removed and the healthy section brought out as a stoma, allowing her colon to be linked to the outer section of her abdomen. This requires her to wear a bag over the colostomy which collects her stool as she is unable to control her bowel movements.

Townsend posted a photograph of herself sunbathing, clearly showing her colostomy bags and has received huge support for bringing more awareness to the disease.

She is running out of treatment options and is unable to have any more of her intestine removed because there is so little left. Her only option finally would be to have a bowel transplant. This process is under discussion.

Image Credit: Bethany Townsend Instagram

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