Here’s a real-life story about how to survive IBD. Mistakes that were made, a wrong diagnosis, IBD symptoms, and how one man fixed his digestive system and got his overall health back. And got married because of it!
How to Survive IBD
Allan Mathews ended up in hospital after losing two stone through an intestinal problem, says Joy Orpen. There, he finally regained his appetite — and loved the hospital food.
Although Allan Mathews, 28, is 6ft 2in, there was a time not so long ago when he weighed just nine stone. He says he can’t bear to look at photographs of himself like that — they are just too shocking.
Yet, the weight loss was not the result of fanatical dieting or an eating disorder — it was caused by a disease that Allan didn’t even know existed.
“Just before my exams in 2005, I started to suffer weight loss, stomach cramps, tiredness, diarrhea and I even passed some blood,” this gently spoken Dundalk resident recalls.
Alarming symptoms for sure; but as Allan was under pressure with his business management studies — and because, subconsciously, he was scared — he did nothing. “I was afraid of finding out that something really bad was wrong,” he admits.
Then he began to feel so exhausted he just couldn’t muster up enough energy to finish writing his final year exam paper. Nonetheless, he went on holiday to Portugal and had a ball. “Even though I was feeling sick, I went out and I drank and enjoyed myself. However, I ate very little and, with the heat, I lost a lot of weight. When I see photographs of myself from that holiday, I am so gaunt, I can hardly bear to look at them.”
When Allan got back to Ireland, a doctor told him not to worry; to take a herbal remedy, and to increase the fiber content in his diet. “That was the worst thing he could have recommended,” says Allan. “Subsequently, I was told to do the opposite — to have a low-fiber diet.”
When he got no better, sensibly, he went to see Dr. Paul McCarthy, his own family GP, who immediately sent him to the hospital. “I am extremely grateful to Dr. McCarthy, who sadly passed away recently,” says Allan. “If it wasn’t for him, I might have ended up much worse than I am. At the hospital, they did lots of tests and said I had ulcerative colitis (UC).
“I’d never even heard of it. But I was relieved there was a name I could put to my symptoms.”
According to the Get Gutsy awareness campaign, UC is caused by an inflammation of the large intestine or gastrointestinal tract.
Allan spent three weeks in hospital and was put on steroids, which halted the inflammation. “When I went in, I weighed only nine stone — down from my usual 10 and a half,” he recalls. “Steroids increase appetite, so I ate morning, noon, and night. I loved hospital food. I hadn’t eaten properly for ages and now, suddenly, I had an appetite — everything tasted great. I get annoyed when people criticize hospital food. When I left, I was up to 11 stone.”
Shortly after he was discharged, Allan was due to take a group of scouts to Switzerland but was advised not to go. What happened next changed his life. “Instead, I went camping with a friend to Donegal and that’s how I met my wife, Doireann,” he says.
Ironically, Doireann also came from Dundalk but, as luck would have it, she was up north teaching at an Irish college for just three weeks when the lads breezed in. “If I hadn’t gone that weekend, I would probably still be single,” says Allan — the sparkle in his eye proof that he knows he is one lucky man.
So, when he returned home, he was feeling good for several reasons. “My life felt pretty normal for about two months. I was still on steroids, but a much lower dose. Then, one Sunday, I just keeled over with terrible pain. The next day I took myself to the hospital — they decided I needed investigative surgery,” Allan recalls.
“I was transferred by ambulance to another hospital. When they operated, they found a blockage. It turned out part of my colon was fusing because of the inflammation. So they cut that section out.”
At this point, Allan’s diagnosis changed from UC to Crohn’s disease.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to go through all this to learn how to survive IBD, but now that you know some of the symptoms and changes in lifestyle and diet needed, you’ll know that although your digestive system can be challenged, there are always things that can be done to minimize the effects of this incurable disease.