A 26-year-old mum has become a TikTok sensation after sharing videos of the stoma bag she had fitted last month in a bid to normalise the Crohn’s Disease that saw her frequently hospitalised and sometimes rushing to the loo up to 30 times a day.
It is just three weeks since recruitment consultant Natalie Parr, 26, had life changing surgery to have a stoma fitted to collect her waste, after years of suffering with persistent problems because of the inflammatory bowel condition.
Diagnosed aged 18 Natalie, who lives in Wickford, Essex, with her boyfriend, Danny Hollowbread, 29, boss of a bathroom fitting company, and their son, Teddy, two, believes she first experienced symptoms of Crohn’s when she was just 13.
She said: “I first remember having problems with my bowels at 13 and, for the next five years, my symptoms got progressively worse.
“It reached the point where I was needing to run to the toilet about 30 times a day, but I put off telling anyone about it.
“At the time, I was an awkward teen and felt embarrassed. I also had a feeling that something was seriously wrong and I was scared of the outcome, so I put my head in the sand.”
She added: “Instead of letting it stop me from socialising, I probably pushed myself too far as I didn’t want to miss out.
“I was losing a lot of weight and I had looked at some recent holiday photos in 2014 and realised just how skinny I looked. I was skin and bone.
“It was then that I knew I had to go to the doctor and get it sorted.”
After various tests, Natalie was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, aged 18.
She said: “It’s an auto immune condition, which means whenever I get a cold or a bug that should last a couple of days, I’ll be ill for two weeks, sometimes to the point where I end up in hospital.”
Armed with a diagnosis, Natalie was prescribed medication to combat the pain she was experiencing, but she says getting her drugs right was very much a question of trial and error.
She said: “Some things worked better than others but in 2017, when I was 21, my bowel perforated and Danny had to rush me to hospital.
“We had only been dating for a few months at the time and, while I had explained my condition to him, it was the first time he saw just how badly it affected me.
“When we got to the hospital a doctor told him that if he hadn’t brought me in that night, I might not have made it to the next day. ”
After spending a few nights in hospital, Natalie recovered at home and was prescribed new medication which seemed to rid her of her ailments.
She said: “The drug completely took away all symptoms and for three years I felt like I didn’t even have Crohn’s Disease, which was amazing.”
During that time, in 2020, Natalie gave birth to her son, Teddy.
She said: “It was after giving birth that the pain started to return. It would flare up and came back stronger, but this was during the start of the pandemic, so I struggled to get further tests done.
“It took a while as I had to wait for things in the world to return to normal but, last year, doctors started discussing the possibility of me having a stoma.”
Natalie admits she was reluctant at first to go ahead with the procedure.
She said: “The idea of surgery was terrifying, so I declined. Deep down though, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would have to have the operation.
“Then, a few weeks ago, in April this year, I suffered the worst flare up of my life.
“I was rushed into hospital, where doctors discovered I had an abscess on my bowel and perforation.”
She added: “I was in hospital for weeks while they tried to get me better and being away from my boyfriend and our little boy for that long was awful.
“It was getting worse and worse and there was a moment when one of my doctors said to me, ‘I cannot keep seeing you in hospital, we need to do something about this.’”
Natalie was discharged and spent three days at home before being readmitted in May.
She said: “I was back at home and saying to Danny that something didn’t feel right, I didn’t feel well enough to be home.
“He ended up phoning an ambulance which took me back to hospital, where I discovered I had an infection.
“It was then that the idea of surgery was brought up again to me and I started to seriously consider it.”
Natalie recalls how she reflected on ways that the pain was limiting her life.
She said: “The pain meant that I was struggling to do all the things I wanted to do with my baby. I couldn’t always play with him or be as present with him as I was in so much agony.
“I knew something had to drastically change.”
At the end of May, Natalie finally went in for the life changing procedure to have a stoma bag fitted.
She said: “It was a very emotional thing to go through and it was quite scary to have an operation knowing my body would change because of it, but I feel very positive about the outcome.
“Danny has been amazing and took over the care of Teddy while I went through the operation.”
It is just three weeks since Natalie had the four-hour operation and already she acknowledges that the results have been life changing.
“I’m still recovering and sore from the surgery, but the actual pain I used to experience due to my condition has completely gone,” she said.
“It’s felt like a miracle cure, I can’t believe it just vanished overnight.”
She added: “The pain I would feel on a daily basis was becoming unbearable. I’d eat a mouthful of food and have to rush to the toilet. I just wasn’t coping with the condition anymore.
“I have to have another big operation in the next year or two to remove part of my bowel, but I’m hoping that I’ll be given the green light by my doctor to have another baby before having the second op, as we’re keen to expand our family.”
In the meantime, Natalie is eager to project a positive message about stomas, by posting videos showing hers on Facebook and TikTok and helping to raise awareness of Crohn’s.
She said: “The first video I posted now has over 32,000 views and the comments are all so supportive.
“After the hardest and scariest time of my life, being away from my family and particularly my little boy, a whirlwind of crazy up and down emotions and then the healing, I decided pretty quickly that this was something I didn’t want to hide or be ashamed of.
“I didn’t want to stop feeling like myself, or feeling like I should hide away or have to change my whole wardrobe to accommodate this huge change.”
She added: “I want to show my son that it’s okay to be different and to be proud of who you are no matter what.
“Of course, I’m still coming to terms with my new body. Some days are harder than others and the wish to be ‘normal’ creeps in.
“I intensely miss the body I used to know, but I’m learning slowly to love my new body for all that it means and all that it gives me.”
She added: “Now I can give my son the world and that makes me feel so incredibly lucky.”
Natalie is taking part in the Crohn’s and Colitis UK Walk It fundraiser, for more information visit: www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk