World IBD Day: Crohn's disease sufferer speaks out

Ryan Lawmon from Stevenage after colostomy surgery

Ryan Lawmon from Stevenage had life-saving colostomy surgery and a stoma fitted after being diagnosed with Crohn's disease - Credit: East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust

A 25-year-old construction worker who was close to death before emergency surgery and a diagnosis of Crohn's disease has told his story as part of World IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) Day today (May 19).

Ryan Lawmon, who lives in Stevenage, was diagnosed with Crohn's disease - a lifelong inflammatory bowel condition where parts of the digestive system become inflamed - in 2016, following a year of illness and weekly tests.

In 2017, Ryan’s condition worsened and he quickly became unwell. He was rushed to Stevenage's Lister Hospital with a hole in his oesophagus and was later told that his heart had been moments away from stopping.

Ryan said: “I was told 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, to sit outside of his skin for a year and collect his stools.

He was placed into an induced coma for three days, before spending several weeks in Lister’s intensive care unit, where he underwent numerous chest drains and was fitted with feeding tubes.

Stevenage man Ryan Lawmon had a life-saving operation and a stoma fitted

Ryan had a life-saving operation and a temporary stoma fitted - Credit: East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust

He said: "My family and friends supported me throughout, but the support and care I received from the hospitals I visited helped me get through it all. I honestly do not know how I would have managed or coped had it not been for their knowledge, understanding, care and professional guidance.

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"Crohn's 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 to 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.

"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."

Stevenage Crohn's sufferer Ryan Lawmon with his brother-in-law Mitch

Ryan (left) with his brother-in-law Mitch - Credit: East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust

The main symptoms of Crohn's disease are diarrhoea, stomach aches and cramps, blood in your poo, tiredness and weight loss. Ryan said: "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."

Asked about the challenges of living with Crohn's disease, Ryan said: "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."

Stevenage construction worker Ryan Lawmon who has Crohn's disease

Stevenage's Ryan Lawmon was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 2016 - Credit: East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust

Asked what he would say to someone going through a similar situation to his own experience, Ryan said: "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 be. We all need to use the toilet, but those with Crohn’s need to more so than others."

You can find out more information about inflammatory bowel disease at nhs.uk/conditions/inflammatory-bowel-disease/ or about Crohn's disease specifically at nhs.uk/conditions/crohns-disease/.

For more about World IBD Day, visit worldibdday.org.