Nurse, 29, has ‘life-changing’ surgery to remove her bowel and FOUR FEET of intestines after living for years in fear of her colon exploding inside her
- Alex Newton, from Birmingham, needed the toilet up to 30 times a day
- Doctors said her condition was so severe her bowel could explode and kill her
- But the surgery means she never has to go to the toilet and has a bag instead
- She said ‘my life is completely different now’ and plans to hike on Everest
An RAF nurse who spent five years living in fear of her bowel exploding inside her has had surgery to remove the organ and four feet (1.2m) of her intestines.
Alex Newton, 29, from Birmingham, had to go to the toilet up to 30 times a day and felt her life was held back by a severe case of the bowel disease ulcerative colitis.
Ulcerative colitis affects around 146,000 people in the UK and causes swelling and ulcers in the colon.
Doctors told Mrs Newton her condition was so severe her bowel could swell and burst inside her, causing potentially deadly complications.
Mrs Newton, who had the life-changing surgery last year, is now looking forward to living without limits and potentially serving abroad in the air force for the first time.
Alex Newton, a 29-year-old RAF nurse from Birmingham had ‘life-changing’ surgery to remove her bowel and a four-foot (1.2m) section of her intestine to treat a severe case of ulcerative colitis (pictured on her first day back at work after the operation)
Mrs Newton had the surgery at Dereford Hospital in Plymouth after doctors said her condition was so bad her bowel could have exploded inside her and killed her
For Mrs Newton, who married her husband Lewis, 28, in June last year, the operation was ‘life changing’.
‘My life is completely different now because I couldn’t live my life properly before,’ she said.
‘I was told that if I didn’t have the surgery, my bowel could have exploded and that it would be an urgent medical emergency.
‘I only felt safe at home watching TV. I’m finally looking forward to living my life to the full.
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‘I’ve never been able to serve abroad and it was always quite frustrating for me.
‘A lot of the time I felt well enough but that can change really quickly. I understood why I couldn’t go.
‘I love my job and I’m excited to be able to do the things that I joined the RAF to do.’
Between 2012 and 2017, Mrs Newton’s life was put on hold as she battled against with the particularly aggressive form of ulcerative colitis.
Sufferers experience severe diarrhoea, weight loss and fatigue, and the disease left Mrs Newton unable to do enjoy doing the things that ‘normal people’ do.
Symptoms would flare up months apart often for months at a time, and painful ulcers would line her bowel causing it to swell to double its normal size.
But she finally had her bowel removed in November last year, after five years of torment, and doctors also removed part of her large intestine at the Dereford Hospital in Plymouth.
Since having her surgery, Mrs Newton no longer has to rush to the toilet dozens of times a a day and has been able to live her life to the full, she says (pictured on a skiing trip just seven weeks after her operation)
Mrs Newton now has a stoma bag attached to her abdomen (pictured), which automatically collects waste from her gut because her bowel has been removed
Despite serving with the RAF for five years already, she has always been ‘medically downgraded’ and branded unfit to serve abroad, unlike her colleagues.
Mrs Newton was forced to watch from the sidelines as others experienced deployments to the likes of Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.
WHAT IS ULCERATIVE COLITIS?
Ulcerative colitis is a long-term condition in which the colon (the bowel) and rectum become inflamed. It affects around one in every 420 people living in the UK – approximately 146,00 people.
Small ulcers can develop on the colon’s lining, and can bleed and produce pus.
Symptoms include recurring diarrhoea, which may contain blood, mucus or pus, abdominal pain and needing to empty your bowels frequently.
People may also experience fatigue, loss of appetite and weight loss.
Ulcerative colitis is thought to be an autoimmune condition which means the immune system – the body’s defence against infection – goes wrong and attacks healthy tissue.
The most popular theory is that the immune system mistakes harmless bacteria inside the colon for a threat and attacks the tissues of the colon, causing it to become inflamed.
Exactly what causes the immune system to behave in this way is unclear. Most experts think it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
‘I was really, really poorly a lot of the time,’ Mrs Newton said. ‘I got told to try to carry on but I couldn’t.
‘The disease flares up and I can go months with being fine. But since 2015 I’ve been in constant agony.
‘I’ve been going to the loo as much as 30 times a day and I lose a lot of blood.
‘At once point I lost two stone in two weeks. At my worst I had 14 ulcers in my mouth, it was covered and was so painful.
‘It was a living hell for me and I was still working full time. It was a nightmare having to keep running to the toilet.’
She was made almost house-bound out of fear needing the toilet several times a day even had an app on her phone that tells users where the nearest toilet is.
The severity of Mrs Newton’s illness was made clear when doctors told her that if she didn’t have her bowel removed, it could ‘burst’ and cause a serious medical emergency.
She said: ‘It could have killed me. The contents of my bowel would be in my stomach. Because I’m a nurse I knew how serious this was.
‘By that point I knew that surgery was the only way to go.’
Almost a year after her surgery, Mrs Newton is expecting to be partially upgraded by the RAF and allowed to serve abroad for the first time in her career.
She now lives with a stoma bag, meaning she never has to go to the toilet. Instead, waste filters into a bag that she has to empty twice a day.
Mrs Newton said: ‘I was very against it. I didn’t want to have to live with a bag, I wanted anything but.
‘There were so many negative things being said about them.’
However, Mrs Newton is now completely pain-free and has adopted a new outlook on living with a stoma bag.
Mrs Newton married her husband Lewis, 28, in June last year and now hopes she will be able to serve abroad with the air force for the first time since she started her job five years ago
Mrs Newton is planning on hiking to Everest base camp with a friend in spring next year as she makes the most of life without the condition which limited her life for five years (pictured on a training climb at the summit of Ben Nevis)
Another item on Mrs Newton’s ‘mini bucket list’ she made while in hospital was to go to the beach wearing a bikini, despite having to wear the stoma bag which she was initially worried about but now embraces
Armed with a new outlook on life, she has set out on a mission to complete a mini bucket list that she wrote during her recovery from surgery.
As well as going to the beach wearing a bikini and going skiing, the check list includes a hike up to the base camp of Mount Everest in Spring 2019.
Mrs Newton will take on the mountain challenge with her RAF colleague, Lucy Bullock.
Her aim is to inspire others scared by the prospect of living with a stoma bag to embrace it as a part of their life and to inspire people to enjoy being pain free.
Mrs Newton, whose training plan has included a climb up Ben Nevis and treks in the Peak District said: ‘I did think that the stoma bag attracted a stigma.
‘But as soon as I was discharged I realised that I wasn’t in pain anymore. I thought to myself, ‘why was I so worried?’
‘I felt better than I had in years and years and from the outside when I’m wearing clothes, you can’t tell at all.
Mrs Newton had her bowel and part of her intestine removed in November last year (pictured) and now says: ‘I love my job and I’m excited to be able to do the things that I joined the RAF to do’
‘I set myself lots of goals when I was in hospital and I went skiing just seven weeks after my surgery.
‘I couldn’t have done it two years ago and I want to show people that they shouldn’t be scared to have the surgery.’
Mrs Newton and Ms Bullock will spend two weeks trekking from the foot of Everest to the brutally cold and unpredictably hostile environment of the 6,000m base.
The pair will walk for 10 hours a day for 10 days.
Since her surgery Mrs Newton has also enrolled onto a distance-learning master’s degree at Salford University to study the disease she once lived with.
She hopes to one day become a specialist nurse who works with people with chronic bowel diseases.
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