We’re still teasing out the reasons why diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, a chronic and inflammatory illness that affects the digestive system, is soaring in young men and women in countries like the U.K. and U.S. As it is with almost every disease, diagnosis carries stigma and this rise has been quiet — so a 24-year-old British man named Ste Walker took to Facebook to explain that while he may look fine, Crohn’s disease is tearing his body apart. His message struck a nerve, as the post has gotten over 66,000 likes and more than 21,000 shares in two weeks.
Walker rallies against snap assessments: If you can think of a time when you were offended seeing someone seemingly healthy use a parking space or restroom for the physically challenged, Walker points out appearances can be greatly deceiving, hoping you’ll back off judgment calls down the road.
In side-by-side photos, Walker shows how he might look to a passerby (left), contrasted against his torso juggling the plugs, tubes, and other medical apparatus he needs to live.
“To look at me I look like any normal guy my age, but that’s because I want you to view me like that….look [a bit] closer [though], or ask me questions, and you will soon [realize] that I have a major illness…”
Through a catheter, Walker receives total parenteral nutrition, or TPN. It contains proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other nutrients he can’t get through eating. Ste writes he receives TPN “as my stomach doesn’t work correctly,” so a Ryles tube is inserted in his nostril, then down his nasopharynx and esophagus into the stomach. Walker received an ileostomy, allowing excrement to pass out of his body through a stoma “because inside my bowels it’s full of [Crohn’s] disease, ulcers, strictures, fistulas, narrow sections, [tumors] etc.”
His struggle is not only physical. He deals with anxiety and loneliness, and expresses concern for his friends, “seeing what my illness does to them has a massive effect on my mental state of mind.”
Though Walker’s in the spotlight for his graphic method of raising Crohn’s awareness on Facebook, he’s not alone. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America estimates that some 1.4 million Americans, most diagnosed before their 30th birthday, are affected by inflammatory bowel diseases. The interplay between genetics, the environment, and an immune system is thought to be the root cause for this silent sickness.