Brett Ashley2.pngBrett Ashley's Story

Throughout my college years, and five years after graduation, I always experienced horrible stomach pains and irregular bowel movements. My doctor would tell me to clean up my eating habits and have more fiber, which I had done for many years so I just couldn't understand how I was still experiencing so much pain and when I ate healthy and made sure to drink plenty of water daily.

My mother's father passed away from colon cancer and I thought with my family history I would be a candidate for an early colonoscopy, but doctors said I was too young, (at the time 25 years old), and with family history of colon cancer they would advise a colonoscopy much earlier than 50 years of age but not at 25, there was no way this pain was from colon cancer. I suffered for several years with cramping, bloating, back pain, fatigue, weight loss, weight gain and loss of appetite. New Year's Eve of 2011 I experienced blood in my stool, I was nervous, scared and confused. I contacted my doctor and was finally referred to a gastroenterology doctor and was scheduled for a colonoscopy but had to wait 30 days since for the first available appointment.The prep for the colonoscopy appointment left me weak, dehydrated and sick. I had already been experiencing excessive diarrhea, the prep was making it ten times worse.

My appointment on January 23rd, 2012 was scheduled for 12pm and by 8am I couldn't move, my mom had to drive me to the appointment. When I arrived to the doctor's office I was three hours early and too weak to walk from the car to the office. My mom ran into the office demanded that I be seen right away! Five nurses came out to the car, one with a wheel chair, to help me into the doctor's office. They were attentive and took me in as an emergency appointment, after the scope was performed I was told by the doctor my lower colon, the sigmoid, was extremely inflamed and he couldn't do a full scope in fear he would rupture the intestinal walls. I was sent home on three medications, one being a steroid, and was to schedule a two week follow-up appointment. I was given a list of foods to avoid in hopes it would give me more relief along with the prescribed medications.

On Super Bowl Sunday, February 6th 2012, I was admitted to the emergency room with a 105 fever and uncontrollable bowel movements. I felt like I was dying but little did I know it was, due to sepsis. I spent a week in the hospital while the doctors performed various tests to try and figure out why I was experiencing uncontrollable bowel movements and why I was in so much pain. The week in the hospital is very foggy to me as I was on very heavy pain medicines and eventually admitted to telemetry to monitor my heart and lungs since I was having a very difficult time breathing. Finally the following Saturday, late at night, I vaguely remember several nurses surrounding my mom and then my mom began to cry. My mom came over to me and said Brett, they have to operate on your large intestine, you're going to be okay, this will help you feel better. I told her I would do any option right now if I could feel any sort of relief! I was weak, delirious, bloated to the point I looked pregnant, my chest felt so heavy like there were a ton of bricks on it, I felt like I was dying; all I wanted to do was feel better and at that point I didn't care how they had to do it.

It was now Sunday morning the emergency on-call surgeon was called in and I was wheeled back for prep. My heart rate was above 200, it took several bags of IV to bring my heart rate back down suitable for a very invasive operation. I don't remember too much of how the early morning hours before surgery were spent, except for meeting my anesthesiologist and briefly meeting my surgeon. Not to my knowledge at the time, but the surgeon met with my mother and told her emergency surgery was the only option and he wasn't sure what he would find once he went in or how long it would take, but that I was very very sick and if not operated on now I would die from poisoning myself, resulting from sepsis. I spent two days in ICU, finally made it to my hospital room which at that time I didn't know it would be my room for the next month and a half. When I finally woke, I was greeted by my teary-eyed mother, she was so happy to see I made it through a 6 hour surgery but was dreading to tell me that my entire colon was removed and I had an ileostomy bag on my abdomen.

I was so sick and weak going into the emergency surgery that it took me several months to recovery from intestinal surgery. The incision on my stomach wasn't healing due to a gastrointestinal fistula forming, a passage way forming from my intestinal tract allowing gastric fluids to seep through the lining. I spent many restless nights in the hospital hooked up to various machines and was told I needed to paralyze my intestines to help them heal, I was put on a liquid only diet for 36 days, with additional nutrients being pumped into my body by TPN, Total Parenteral Nutrition, intravenous feeding which bypasses the usual process of eating and digestion.

I am happy to say I have a very supportive family members and friends which helped me stay positive through this whole process and boy was it a process! I was only 27 years old at the time, went through a major surgery which resulted in an ileostomy bag and several complications. Luckily after many months recovering in the hospital and at home, in July of 2012 I went to UPENN to meet with a colorectal surgeon and went through more tests to happily find out I was a candidate for the reversal surgery. Two more surgeries were performed on me, one in October 2012 and the final in January 2013 to remove my ileostomy bag and reconnect my small intestine to my anus, so I can I function and live "bag" free!

I hope this story helps those experiencing abdominal pain and who are too afraid to see a doctor or think "I'm too young to have a disease such as ulcerative colitis" but it happens to all shapes and sizes. If you are feeling abdominal pain and your fecal matter is abdominal, PLEASE PLEASE see a doctor, ask for help on how to manage living with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Making adjustments in your eating habits and exercise will help ease the horrible pains and hopefully prevent you from going down the same path as me. I am very thankful for my health and my body's ability to recover from such surgeries and I am back to normalcy, or what I consider normalcy now! Thanks for letting me share my story and please don't be afraid to seek medical attention if you have symptoms of colitis or Crohn's, it will save your life!

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