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20th April 2016

Karl: 1 – Crohn’s: 0

It’s been an uphill struggle, but sports enthusiast Karl Tucker refuses to let Inflammatory Bowel Disease take over his life.

He’s come a long way since being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease two years ago, when “there were days when I was unable to dress and wash myself,” recalls the 25-year-old, who’s a team leader at a special needs school.

This is a guy who went to the gym, cycled and played football five times a week, but who had been reduced to planning his outings around the nearest toilet. Not only was it embarrassing, it was painful. “My initial symptoms included lots of bowel motions (up to 10-15 bowel motions a day, sometimes more), fatigue, weight loss, stomach cramps, loss of blood when I went to the toilet, and pain in my hips and shoulders. These progressively got worse,” he tells This Is Medtech.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition without a cure that affects over 300,000 people in the UK alone. It’s one of the main forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which causes inflammation of the digestive system’s lining. Though Karl was diagnosed within three months, some IBD sufferers can go undiagnosed for more than a year. Because it’s not something people feel comfortable talking about, they often suffer in silence.

“I was diagnosed by having blood tests and a colonoscopy, which is a procedure where they insert a camera up your back passage. They also took biopsies from my large bowel,” Karl explains. “I was so happy that I had a diagnosis and I was hoping to get my disease under control,” he says.

Indeed, things are looking up for Karl after he underwent a number of surgeries to divert his digestive tract and fit a colostomy bag that collects waste outside of his body. He’s back to doing the sport that he’s so passionate about ‒ something that would’ve been unthinkable two years ago ‒ and he documented his journey back to fitness in a series of photos to show what can be achieved with hard work and determination.

Although he’s seen a vast improvement, the disease still rears its ugly head sometimes. “I still have experiences when I’ve been unable to make it to the toilet and this is why I’m having a proctectomy (surgery to remove the large bowel and rectum, and sew up the tail end). It’s one of the only things that gets me down,” he says.

Karl’s parting advice to other IBD sufferers? “All I would say to anyone going through a diagnosis, or trialling new medication or even awaiting surgery is that anything is possible, stay positive and it will get better. Also talk to people, other people in the same or similar position as you.”