Many ostomates who have bought a Stealth Belt also know Richard O'Hamill. He's the CEO and founder who has been a positive and outspoken advocate in the ostomy community for over a decade. But few have heard the story of how his business started and why Richard's motto is to help ostomates “Go Anywhere, Do Anything.”
We’ll let his wife Hannah share the story of how they almost didn't meet after Richard (Rick) had ostomy surgery. Their chance meeting proves that when two people are destined to be with each other, life inevitably brings them together.
In 2009, I moved to Johnson City, Tennessee to transfer colleges during my sophomore year. As a way to meet people before the semester began, I joined a local salsa dancing group. On Thursday nights, there was a 2-hour class before the floor opened up for freestyle dancing, which would often carry on late into the night. Because of my extensive background in dance, I eventually became one of the salsa instructors for the group. This involved greeting people at the door and taking the $5 entrance fee. When it was my teaching night, I'd sometimes instruct the beginners class too. Little did I know, this salsa group would change my life forever.
On one Thursday night in June, I was at the entry greeting latecomers when a man I'd never met before walked in the door. He introduced himself as Rick and said he noticed our salsa dancing poster outside the building. He wanted to check it out, so we chatted and got to know each other. After the class ended, Rick decided not to sign up but I somehow convinced him to join me on the dance floor for a short lesson on basic salsa moves. If you've ever seen salsa dancing, it's a very up-close and personal style of dance. You're right up against your partner's body. Rick was quiet, staring at his feet the entire time, and kept some space between our bodies while we danced. I just thought he was shy. In hindsight this makes me laugh because Rick is one of the most personable and outgoing people I've ever met. At the time though, I didn't know the real reason he was acting insecure. This was his very first night out after having ileostomy surgery.
Over the following weeks and months, we continued to dance together and grew closer to each other. After we'd dated for a while, Rick finally opened up about being diagnosed with Crohn's disease at 19. He fought through ten long years with the illness, many hospitalizations, and several complications from the treatments. Rick had his colon removed in 2008 with a surgery that saved his life. I remember him feeling very uncomfortable during that discussion and unsure of how I'd react to learning about a stoma and ostomy bag. But having a mother who lived with a chronic illness for most of her life, I knew this horrible disease and living with an ostomy did not define him.
After his surgery, Rick moved back home to East Tennessee to recover. He was determined to find a way to start swimming, exercising, and staying active despite having an ostomy. It was out of necessity that he invented what is now the Stealth Belt. With the help of his mother Rita, Rick created several different versions of the belt before coming up with a design that worked best for exercise and daily wear. But even with his homemade support belt, Rick still hadn’t built up enough confidence to fully get back into living. After months of confining himself to the house, Rita told her son to get out and do something (just one thing) before coming back home. That's the night he walked into the salsa class… and the night I met my future husband.
I often think about how we almost didn't meet that night. Rick told me that he just about drove past the sign advertising the dance class, but then decided he couldn't go back home without following his mother's advice. If she hadn’t encouraged him to go out that night, we would have never met. If he had gone out earlier or later that day, we would not have met. If he didn’t walk in late to the class, we would not have had the opportunity to chat and get to know each other. It was truly meant to be that we found each other at exactly the right place and time that Thursday night in June 2009.
After six years of dating, Rick and I got married on a beautiful summer day in August 2015. This year we’re expecting our first baby girl in May. I'm so thankful that he created an ostomy support belt that gave him enough confidence to leave the house and meet me nine years ago. The Stealth Belt not only changed his life but mine too, and my hope is that our story will inspire others to venture outside of their comfort zone. "Go Anywhere, Do Anything" is not just Rick's motto, it's for anyone living with an ostomy.
The fact of the matter is, our destiny is not something we can sit by and let happen to us. You create your own happiness. YOU are the only one who can change your future.
This article was made possible by a sponsorship from Stealth Belt.