Bethany Townsend, an aspiring 23 year old model from Worcester, England became an internet sensation in 2014 when bikini photos of her proudly showing off her colostomy bags went viral on social media.
Bethany thought her dreams of becoming a full-time model were over when she was fitted with two colostomy bags during a life saving operation four years ago.
She says she’s been living with Crohn’s disease since she was 3 years old, but was continuously misdiagnosed until she was 11, when she needed to have an emergency surgery to remove 16-inches of her bowel.
Bethany has spent her entire life trying numerous unsuccessful treatments to fight against her illness. She tried steroids, methotrexate and infliximab; she even tried being tube fed for four-years! However, after undergoing all of these treatments and surgeries to remove damaged sections of her intestine, Townsend’s bowel ruptured.
In 2010, Bethany was required to have a colostomy where the damaged section of her intestine was taken out and the healthy part of it was brought out as a stoma, a surgically created opening that allowed her colon to be connected to the outer portion of her abdomen.
As a result of the procedure, she is now required to wear a bag over the stoma to collect her stool, as she has faecal incontinence or a lack of control over her bowel movements.
Three and a half years after her operation, after meeting and marrying her husband Ian, who she says has been a huge support system for her, Bethany decided that she would no longer allow her bags to control her life. Six months after she returned from a trip to Mexico, she sent a photo and shared her story with Crohn’s and Colitis UK, an organisation that aims to raise awareness of the disease and funds for research, as part of the organisation’s “My Crohn’s and Colitis UK story,” otherwise known the #myCCUKstory campaign.
The photo was posted on the organisation’s Facebook page and has been seen by millions of people and has received 246 338 likes, 20 352 shares and 13 277 comments to date.
Bethany was overwhelmed by the positive response she received, and though she feels confident enough to consider getting back into modelling, she is still struggling with Crohn’s.
Doctors hoped that her operation would put her disease into remission, but after four weeks it was back.
A few years ago, she underwent a stem cell transplant, which led to her development of a MRSA infection of the blood and skin, which nearly killed her twice.
Bethany's Crohn’s is still extremely active; she has lost more weight and is currently waiting and hoping for the UK to find a cure for her condition.
Recently, she confessed that she’s running out of treatment options. She can no longer have any more of her intestine removed, as she has so little left. Her final option would be to have a bowel transplant, which is currently in discussion.
In December 2014, Bethany was named Cosmopolitan Magazine's Ultimate Body Confidence Queen for bravely sharing her holiday picture with the world to raise awareness of her condition.
What is Crohn's disease?
Crohn’s disease, named after Dr. Burrill B. Crohn who first illustrated the disease in 1932, is a chronic disease that causes inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract - affecting a person’s ability to absorb nutrients, digest food and eliminate waste. The disease can affect any part of the digestive system, but it mostly affects the colon or the ileum, the last section of the small intestine.
Common symptoms of this disease may include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss, blood and mucus in your stool, anaemia and skin problems. Among younger children, Crohn’s disease may result in a delay in development and growth.
In the most severe cases, the disease can cause the lining of the anus to tear, causing a person to bleed and feel severe pain during bowel movements.
Though the exact cause of Crohn’s is currently unknown, recent evidence suggests that genetics, previous infections, the immune system, environmental factors and smoking may contribute to the development of the disease.
Crohn’s most commonly affects white adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 35, and is most commonly found in westernised countries, such as the UK.
However, the disease can develop at any age, and though it affects more women than men, in children, it affects more young boys than girls.
Though Crohn’s is less prevalent in Africa, according to Dr. Herbert Schneider, a gastroenterologist at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, about seven in every 100,000 South Africans are living with Crohn’s disease, meaning that about 3,500 people are diagnosed with the disease every year.
There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, so the main aim of treatment is to stop inflammation, avoid surgery when possible, and relieve symptoms.
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Sources: Huffington Post, CBS, Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America, National Health Service, Women24, Ostomy Lifestyle, Facebook and Biz Community