Adolescence is a carefree time, but for Katie Harpur, this period has been synonymous with intense pain. At 14, the young woman suffered from severe nausea, going to the toilet 30 times a day, vomiting after each meal.
Ailments that forced her to suppress all social interaction when there were no sanitary facilities nearby. Hell for the teenager faced with the contempt of doctors, calling her a hypochondriac and refusing to take into account her ailments.
A chronic disease
When Katie’s weight finally dropped dangerously, doctors suspected the young girl of being bulimic. But, deep down, Katie knew something was wrong. “I didn’t have an eating disorder. It was too painful for me to eat and if I ate, I would vomit,” she told the Mirror newspaper. “I couldn’t walk, I was so weak that I ended up in the hospital,” she continued. Katie, then 16, underwent a colonoscopy and biopsy revealing that she had Crohn’s disease, a chronic condition where parts of the digestive system become inflamed.
Scar and ostomy bag
In 2014, Katie, undergoing treatment, realized that it was inevitable for her to have an ostomy bag. “While being hospitalized, I obviously had image concerns with my body. I was young and people tend to have the wrong idea of ostomy bags thinking they are dirty,” she explained. “I knew I would also end up with a giant scar that would make me nervous,” she said. At 21, Katie nevertheless undergoes the procedure for the installation of a temporary ostomy bag.
A new life
But the following year, infections and a prolapse forced her to have her stoma removed. In 2022, she decides to have one installed permanently. “As there had been a lot of problems with the first one, I was very nervous, especially since the operation could not be reversed,” she recalled. “But my condition had become so bad and I was in so much pain that it was really, for me, the only option,” she added. A year later, Katie says the procedure has “changed her life”, now allowing her to travel and socialize with her friends.
Raising awareness about Crohn’s disease
“It’s honestly the best thing I’ve ever done,” said Katie, now a nurse. “Growing up, I was so excited to travel, but illness made it impossible,” she said. Since her surgery, Katie has taken the “trip of a lifetime” to Tokyo, also visiting Mount Fuji and Super Nintendo World. “Not being able to speak Japanese, I would have had a lot of trouble finding public toilets,” she said. Now Katie, 25, is working to raise awareness about the disease, also hoping to break the stigma around ostomy bags. “A lot of people think having one is the end of the world. But I hope people can see my experience and understand that they are not scary. Mine has greatly improved my life and allowed me to start enjoying it,” she concluded.