“Live your life, never let Crohn’s stop you achieving anything – bad days get better but, if they don’t, talk about it.”
These inspirational words come from Ryan Lawmon, a 25-year-old construction worker from Stevenage who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a teenager.
Crohn’s disease is a lifelong inflammatory bowel condition where parts of the digestive system become inflamed. As part of World IBD Day 2022, Ryan told us his story.
After a year of weekly tests and illness, in 2016 Ryan was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease –
In 2017, Ryan’s condition worsened. After what he thought was a normal day, Ryan quickly became unwell, and that evening he was rushed to Lister Hospital in Stevenage with a hole in his oesophagus and was later told that his heart was moments away from stopping.
What ensued that night was a conversation that will forever stay with Ryan: “I was told that I needed an urgent operation and, should I refuse, I would not live. It was at that moment that I realised the severity of what was happening and that, ultimately, I didn’t have a choice – I needed this operation.”
After a successful colostomy operation to divert one end of his colon through an opening in his stomach, Ryan was fitted with a temporary stoma bag which sat outside of his skin for a year, which would collect his stools.
Ryan was placed into an induced coma for three days, before spending several weeks in Lister’s intensive care unit (ICU) where he underwent numerous chest drains and was fitted with feeding tubes.
This World IBD Day, we sat down with East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust patient Ryan about how he lives with the inflammatory bowel disease and his inspiring advice for anyone diagnosed with Crohn’s:
- What were the signs and symptoms that led to your Crohn’s diagnosis?
I was vomiting regularly after eating and constantly felt tired, lethargic, and rarely left the toilet, however the eventual diagnosis of Crohn’s disease was a long process which was only found after extensive testing and internal cameras.
- What are the challenges of living with Crohn’s disease and what have you done to overcome these?
When I had a stoma bag, I struggled to work long hours. I was working as a restaurant manager at the time, where I would be working long hours opening and closing the restaurant – these responsibilities made it difficult to regularly change my stoma bag and would often result in leaks and skin sores.
Having Crohn’s initially impacted my social life, when you need to visit the toilet without a stoma bag, the need is urgent. And so, without a bag, I would only like to visit facilities which I knew and was comfortable using – which ultimately stopped me leaving the comfort and safety blanket of my own home.
- What do you wish more people knew about Crohn’s disease?
That it does not just affect the elderly, it can happen to anyone at any age. After my diagnosis, it was determined that I could have had the disease a lot earlier in life from 10-12 years of age, but it was never diagnosed. I didn’t know how much it could change your life and how impactful it can be, both physically and mentally. It is a serious disease and the risk to life is real – I did not know any of this before having Crohn’s myself.
- Who supports you and how important is this support?
My family and friends supported me throughout, but the support and care I received from the hospitals I visited, as well as my consultant Mr. Rob Mead at Lister Hospital helped me get through it all. I honestly do not know how I would have managed or coped had it have not been for their knowledge, understanding, care and professional guidance.
- Is there anything you do to manage Crohn’s yourself?
The most important thing towards effectively managing Crohn’s is consistency. Whether that is consistency with tablets, staying on top of your prescriptions, or ensuring you are eating the correct foods and making a conscious effort to avoid foods that can cause flare-ups.
- Finally, what would you say to someone going through a similar situation to what you experienced?
I would encourage them to always live their life, don’t let Crohn’s stop you from doing and achieving anything. Bad days get better, but if they don’t – talk about it. We often are scared or embarrassed to talk about the nature of Crohn’s and the use of stoma bags to pass stools, but we shouldn’t do – we all need to use the toilet, but those with Crohn’s need to more so than others.
You can find more information about Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases on the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/crohns-disease/