A mum just one day away from death was saved when doctors removed her decaying bowel from her body before it poisoned and killed her from the inside.
Lucky Rowena Chadwick-Smith, 36, had been living with Crohn’s diagnosis for 12 years, but never imagined it might prove fatal – assuming it would only inhibit her life for the foreseeable future.
But when she felt faint and had a searing pain in her stomach, Rowena was whisked into surgery at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, West Yorkshire, and doctor’s realised her bowel was decaying inside of her and breaking apart – killing off her other organs in the process and triggering her body to shutdown.
The decaying of her bowel was due to her Crohn’s disease – which causes inflammation of the bowel and can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhoea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition.
The only treatment available in Rowena’s situation was an emergency procedure, which needed to be conducted as soon as possible before the decaying bowel disintegrated further into her body.
Rowena was anaesthetised and went under the knife for a gruelling seven-hour operation, leaving her with a stoma bag and a 20 centimeter long scar on her stomach – a constant reminder of her brush with death.
Doctors told Rowena had she not had the surgery when she did she would have died within ‘a day’.
She has now been left with severe side effects and was crippled in agony for a month after the operation, but feels grateful to have survived.
The mum-of-one, who is studying for a PhD in Vocal Production and Music Technology, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, said: “I’m lucky to even be alive. This disease has changed my life and it can be devastating for those unfortunate enough to have it.
“The pain I have endured since I was diagnosed I would not wish upon my worst enemy. It is debilitating and affects every aspect of your life, reducing the quality of your life and preventing you from completing basic everyday activities.
“My whole life has been affected. I can’t do nearly as much as most people can.
“I can’t walk long distances. Before all of this, I could march up mountains. Crohn’s made me a ghost of myself.
“Thanks to the amazing work of the NHS gastroenterologists, surgeons, dieticians, nurses and A&E, I have been able to regain some quality of life and I am now not suffering from stomach pains any more.”
Rowena had a sharp stabbing pain all of a sudden in April 2019.
Her son, Cameron, 16, and husband Robert, 66, who is a retired handyman, urged her to go and visit the accident and emergency department of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary after she described her symptoms.
Rowena said: “I’ve always had pain because of my crohn’s, but nothing like this before.
“I could feel my vision going, and it felt like someone had set my organs on fire. It was the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
Upon arrival at the hospital, medical staff immediately realised that Rowena’s symptoms were far more serious than she had initially thought.
She was whisked into a surgical ward, where a gastroenterologist examined her and realised they had to act fast.
“My internal organs were extremely inflamed,” she said.
“The doctors told me that the inflammation markers of a normal, healthy body are five and below. Mine were measured to be 386.
“I remember seeing many concerned faces around me, but eventually the pain became too much and I blacked out.”
Seven hours later, Rowena woke up dressed in a hospital gown. Surgeons had rushed her away for an urgent operation on her bowel.
**WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES**
“When they opened me up, they were met with a catastrophe,” she said.
“My bowel was completely destroyed. It was falling apart and seeping into my bloodstream, poisoning my body from the inside.
“The surgery was so intense and they had to remove my bowel completely in order to stop the decay from poisoning me further. The procedure was so invasive that I was dying on the table in front of them, so they could only remove 2/3 of my bowel.
“When I woke up, I was still in searing pain. If anything it felt worse than it had before, and I had 41 stitches holding me together.
“My husband and son were sat next to my hospital bed, so I asked them to explain what had happened. They told me if I had come to hospital just a day later, I would be in a morgue.
“The doctors then came in and explained that most of my bowel was now out of me. I was a ticking time bomb, and they operated on me just before my luck ran out.”
During her four-week recovery, Rowena experienced multiple side effects alongside the chronic pain.
“I was fitted with two stoma bags.It was ghastly, I had bags busting, bile fountaining out of my stoma, sickness, I collapsed in the toilet,” she said.
“On one occasion when one of my stoma bags burst, it took the nurses just over two hours to clean up the black goo that was leaking out of me.”
But against the odds, Rowena has made a remarkable recovery, and her Crohn’s diagnosis has taken a back seat in her life.
“Anyone would question how after something so traumatic I am able to pick myself up and carry on with my life,” she said.
“I’m back studying for my PhD, and I have the most supportive son and husband by my side too.
“I went from feeling like my soul had been destroyed, to feeling like a warrior. My scarring and my stoma are a testament to my courage.
“My body will never look the same, but the support that I’ve received through all of this is incredible.”