A mother-of-one who has suffered for two-and-a-half years with chronic inflammatory bowel disease says that surgeons from Lincoln and Nottingham have given her a new lease of life after working together to perform major surgery.
Mellissa Gerwal (29) was diagnosed with the condition in May 2016. Despite trying numerous treatments and medications her condition deteriorated, with surgery to remove her large intestine, colon, rectum and anal passage her only remaining option.
The surgery also involved bringing Mellissa’s small intestine through an opening in her lower abdomen to create a permanent stoma.
Mellissa asked if the procedure could be performed using keyhole surgery through the opening made for her stoma, as it known to result in less post-operative pain, less risk of infection, a better cosmetic appearance and also a quicker recovery time. This surgery had never previously been performed at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust. It was only possible after Consultant Colorectal Surgeon Amit Shukla arranged with the colorectal department at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust for their consultant and specialist Bala Bharathan to come to Lincoln for the surgery.
Mellissa said: “All medical options had been exhausted and I was informed that surgery was my only option. My body was fatigued, weak and I was struggling with neutropenia, which meant I was at a greater risk of infection. I had had uncontrolled extensive inflammation in my body for over two years and I was becoming concerned about my increased risk of developing other complications, such as bowel cancer.
“Mr Shukla worked tirelessly to arrange for me to have the surgery as soon as possible and liaised with Mr Bharathan to enable it to be performed at Lincoln County Hospital rather than at the nearest specialist centre which is Queens Medical Hospital in Nottingham. This meant I could be visited by my family, including my baby boy Isaac, on a regular basis during my recovery and also have the surgery in 2018 rather than joining the longer wait list at Nottingham. I am so appreciative of this.”
Despite being 5ft7ins tall, Mellissa’s weight had fallen to less than eight stone prior to the surgery. Mellissa said: “I was rushing to the bathroom more than 15 times a day and struggling with bowel incontinence. My self-esteem and confidence had been shattered. I’d even lost my job due to ill health and was receiving help for anxiety. Inflammatory bowel disease can have such a huge impact on not only physical health but also your mental health and wellbeing.
“Undergoing major surgery to remove my disease and create a permanent stoma has given me my life back – I am a proud ostomate and part of the ‘Barbie Butt’ crew (a colloquial term we use to describe no longer having a rectum or anus) My stoma bag is small and discrete and even just weeks post-surgery I already feel I have a new found confidence and energy.”
Mellissa says she will be ‘forever grateful’ to Mr Shukla and Mr Bharathan for working together to undertake the highly skilled and technically demanding surgery.
She added: “I now have my health back, there is no greater gift anyone could give me.
“I hope that this collaborative working attitude and partnerships between hospitals will grow and flourish to ensure the people of rural Lincolnshire are able to access the same medical expertise and modern surgical techniques as larger cities or hospitals.”
Following the success of Mellissa’s surgery Mr Shukla and Mr Bharathan are already looking at another surgery they can perform together. Mr Shukla said:
“Excellence in rural healthcare means that operations which were previously only being performed in specialist centres should also be brought to more rural locations and I am very pleased that we were able to do this for Mellissa.
“On the day in question, not only did Mr Bharathan display excellent surgical skills but he was also able to share his experience with our team and suggest positive changes in technique and equipment which could improve outcomes from other patients. We are looking at performing another joint case together and building on this excellent partnership.”
Mr Bharathan added: “I feel collaborations are the way forward. By working together we can make these not just the one-offs, but the norm in improving patient experience and care.”
Since her diagnosis in 2016, Mellissa has been a proud and active volunteer for the Lincolnshire Central Crohn’s and Colitis UK charity and helps raise awareness of these conditions. She not only fundraises, but regularly hosts awareness events around the county, most recently manning an information stand at Lincoln County Hospital alongside inflammatory bowel disease nurses and the stoma care team. For more information please visit: www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering/local-network/midlands-wales/lincolnshire-central
Chronic inflammatory bowel disease: inflammation and ulceration of the inner lining of the rectum and colon.
Stoma: an artificial opening that allows faeces or urine either from the intestine or from the urinary tract to pass into a bag.
Neutropenia: is when a person has a low level of neutrophils. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell used to fight infection.
Bowel incontinence: inability to control bowel movements.
Ostomate: A person who has had an ostomy, a surgical operation to create an opening in the body for the discharge of body wastes.
Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease, affecting more than 300,000 people in the UK.