A 20-year-old woman with Crohn’s disease claims having her large intestine removed was the ‘best decision’ she has ever made.
Bethany Purnell, from Carmarthenshire, Wales, was diagnosed with the condition aged 10 after she began suffering from fatigue and severe abdominal pain.
After medication and specialist diets failed to help her symptoms, Bethany had her large intestine, or colon, removed aged 17 and was fitted with an ileostomy, or ostomy, bag, which collects the waste that can no longer pass through the body.
While she was once embarrassed of her condition, Bethany now proudly shows off her ileostomy bag on Instagram, where she has more than 11,000 followers.
Bethany Purnell, from Carmarthenshire, Wales, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at 10 years old. She had a ileostomy bag fitted three years ago and now shows it off on Instagram
The 20-year-old also posted snaps of the bag on dating profiles, saying she didn’t want it to be kept secret from any future partners. Above, one of Bethany’s creative bag designs
She also posted the confident pictures on dating profiles, saying she didn’t want it to be a secret that she later had to ‘reveal’ to a future partner.
Bethany said: ‘At the age of 17, I went in for a colonoscopy and it was the most painful one I had ever had. My intestines were so badly diseased and my rectum was practically entirely scar tissue that I just screamed at my surgeon to take my colon out and I was booked in the following week.
‘It turns out it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I proudly posted it on social media and showed the world that I am rocking this Ostomy bag. I honestly wouldn’t go back.’
Bethany’s parents first noticed her symptoms when she was just 10 years old, when she would fall asleep as soon as she came home from primary school. Weeks later she started suffering from diarrhoea and severe abdominal pain.
Bethany explained the bag, pictured, does not hold her back in her daily life or activities
Bethany has more than 11,000 Instagram followers, who act as a support network for her
‘It left me unable to leave the bathroom. I lost a lot of weight and had blood in my stool,’ Bethany recalled. ‘It was such a frightening time.
‘I’ve tried many different medications, had many surgeries, tried different diets, even liquid diets and being fed through a NG Tube, which is a tube that went up my nose, down the back of my throat and into my stomach…
‘I was so young when I got diagnosed that I didn’t have much of an opinion on it. Whatever my doctor or parents said, I did. I didn’t even know what an Ostomy bag was until I had to get one.’
An ileostomy is a procedure that sees the small intestine is diverted an opening in the abdomen, known as a stoma.
An ostomy bag, also called a stoma bag or ileostomy bag, is used to collect the waste produced by the body as it can no longer pass through the rectum.
The 20-year-old starting posting about her condition after being inspired by other Crohn’s sufferers online. She said their candour helped her embrace her own condition and the bag
The life-changing bag allows Bethany to go out without thinking about the nearest toilet
Bethany still has symptoms but says having the bag fitted has been the ‘best decision’ ever
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is an agonising digestive condition that blights the lives of 115,000 people in Britain and as many as 1.6 million in the US.
Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea and potentially dangerous weight loss. Magician Dynamo is a famous sufferer.
Eight out of ten patients will need a part of the intestine removed as it becomes so damaged it prevents digestion.
Its cause is still not known and there is currently no cure but some with the condition have considered their diet to be a factor.
However, bacteria is already known to play a major role in causing Crohn’s disease, in addition to genetics and diet.
Conventional treatment is with drugs that suppress the immune system’s production of a protein called TNF, which causes inflammation.
Bethany initially only told her close friends about her condition but was inspired to speak publicly after following other Crohn’s sufferers on social media.
She continued: ‘I found some incredibly inspiring people that were giving advice, writing blog posts and even making videos on how to change it or what to wear to conceal it.
‘Those people helped me in ways I could never thank them, so I wanted to help other people too. I wanted to show others that were going through similar situations that they’re not alone and having an ileostomy bag really isn’t as scary and frightening as you first think.’
Bethany’s 11,000 social media followers also act as a support network, posting encouraging messages on days when she feels down or is in hospital.
The 20-year-old, who hopes to one day be well enough to train to be a nail artist, explained she even posted about the ileostomy bag on dating apps.
Bethany also encourages others with Crohn’s disease and offers advice on how to tackle it
Bethany, who needs the bag to expel excrement, said society needs to end the ‘poo taboo’
She continued: ‘I wanted to be as open as possible and if that person didn’t like me because of my bag then they’re obviously not the person for me.
‘Luckily, I’ve found an amazing man that accepts me and Ed (my bag) equally.’
Bethany said society needs to ‘end the taboo around poo’ because there is still a ‘big stigma’ attached to it. She also encouraged anyone suffering from symptoms to see a doctor.
The ileostomy bag hasn’t eliminated Bethany’s symptoms but she said she still believes it was the ‘best decision’ she could have made.
Doctors tried medication and specialty diets before deciding to remove Bethany’s colon
Bethany, pictured, explained the bag had ‘no negative effect on anything at all’
She added: ‘I do still get my down days where I wish I was “normal” but they are definitely outweighed by the good days. Even though my Crohn’s is very severe and having my ileostomy bag unfortunately didn’t benefit my health hugely, but it’s benefited my life.
‘On good days, I can now leave the house without worrying about the nearest toilet and I can do every single thing a “bagless” person could do. A person with an ilostomy bag can still go swimming and play sports and it has no negative effect on anything at all.
‘It has changed my life in a huge way and I honestly couldn’t imagine going back to pooping normally.’