Jessica Sandiford is 23-year-old and lives in Darlington, United Kingdom. She's worked in health care for the past six years, apprenticed for three years in home care and is earning her diploma in Health and Social Care from Darlington College. Working as a Health Care Assistant at Darlington Memorial Hospital in the elective surgery ward is surreal for Jessica because it's the same ward where she spent two months recovering from ileostomy surgery in 2012.
Jessica’s life has taken a few unexpected turns, but as she shares her ostomy story with us, it’s clear to see that sometimes it takes a wrong turn to get you to the right place.
"In March, 2011 at the age of 17, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. This was the very first time I’d heard the words Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I didn’t fully understand it at the time and didn’t know who to talk to about it besides my family and closest friends. The next year of coping with this illness was challenging because I’d just turned 18 and all I wanted to do was hang out with my friends, but instead I dealt with a lot of painful and unpredictable symptoms. I always worried about soiling myself in public because the urge to go would come out of nowhere and usually too late to find a bathroom."
She was put on a number of steroid treatments which seemed to work initially, but unfortunately in April, 2012 she was admitted to the hospital when her colon perforated and she developed Peritonitis. Doctors said that she needed major surgery immediately in order to save her life. Jessica told them, “do what needs to be done,” and then prepared for an eight hour operation.
"I woke up from surgery and didn’t have a clue what was going on. The only thing I recall was being in a hospital. They explained to me that I spent two days in a medically induced coma in order for my body to come around from the operation."
It was during a bed bath that Jessica saw a stoma for the first time. She recalls, "I actually asked my nurse what the “red tube” hanging from my belly was for, and that’s when she explained an ileostomy. I had never heard of an ostomy or stoma, so it came as a shock because I wasn’t expecting Charlie (what I named my stoma), but since it gave me my life back I was so grateful. I use the term, ‘a bag or a box’ literally because without mine I wouldn’t be alive."
However, this wasn’t the end of her journey. In 2014, she was diagnosed with Vulval Crohn’s and in early 2016 Jessica underwent an abdominal wall refashion to help neaten up the scar left from the prior surgery. In the same year she also had a procedure called Panproctocolectomy—an operation that removes the large bowel, rectum and the anal canal. This type of stoma results in a permanent ileostomy.
After her recovery, Jessica came across the Purple Wings Charity, and was really glad she did. "I attended an event called the Purple Wing’s charity ball. The mission of the Purple Wings Charity is to help sufferers of bowel disease with ostomies regain confidence and self-esteem. At this event, I met Jasmine Stacey for the very first time. As we shared our stories, we immediately bonded—we both had Crohn’s and a permanent ileostomy. Jasmine asked me to be part of a holiday photo shoot for her lingerie company and of course my answer was YES!"
She would go on to become one of the models to help launch a new Jasmine Stacey Collection campaign. "It’s something I never expected would happen to me. As I traveled to London for the shoot, I was really nervous but so excited because I wanted to support Jasmine’s vision of people with ostomies (and scars) as models. When I tried on all the different sets, it felt great to be in underwear that was designed so beautifully for ostomates. Everything fit perfectly and felt so comfortable, and when the photos came back I was ecstatic!"
Having an ostomy has given Jessica a totally different outlook on everything with appreciation and gratitude for the people in her life.
"My boyfriend, family and friends have helped me through so much and I can't thank them enough for being with me every step of the way. Going through all of this has taught me to be grateful for my life and to surround myself with people who make me feel happy. Having Crohn’s may have put my life on hold at times, but I will never let it define me or stop me from pursuing my dreams. The one thing in this entire situation that I can control is how I respond to it. I refuse to be negative about what happened to me because so much goodness has come into my life thanks to my ileostomy."
And to Jasmine…
"In our short time knowing each other, I have a new found friend in you. You have taught me so much and I'm so grateful we met. I absolutely love representing your brand because you empower women and help others to love themselves regardless of what life throws at them."