Most people who know about Stealth Belt, also know that the CEO, Richard O'Hamill, is a positive and outgoing advocate for the ostomy community. But not many people know the story of how the business started and why his mission is to inspire ostomates to, “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 when I transferred colleges during my sophomore year. As a way to meet people before the new semester began, I started going to a salsa dancing group in town. On Thursday nights, there was a class for a couple of hours before the floor opened for freestyle dancing that would often go on late into the night. Because of my extensive background in dance, I became one of the salsa instructors and manager for the group after just a few months of attending the class. This involved greeting people at the door and taking the $5 entrance fee, and if it was my teaching night, I would then instruct the beginners class. Little did I know, joining this salsa group would change my life forever.
One Thursday night in June, I was at the entrance greeting latecomers when a man I had never met before walked in the door. He introduced himself as Rick, saying that he saw our salsa dancing sign outside of the building and wanted to check it out. He decided not to join the class, but after we chatted for a while and got to know each other, I finally convinced him to join me on the dance floor to teach him some basic salsa moves after the class ended. If you've ever seen salsa dancing, it's an up close and personal style of dance where you're right up against your partner's body. Rick was quiet, staring at his feet the entire time and made sure to keep space between our bodies when we danced. I just thought he was shy, which in hindsight makes me laugh because Rick is one of the most personable and outgoing people I've ever met. At the time, I had no idea of the real reason he was acting insecurely and that this was Rick's first night out after having his ostomy surgery.
Over the following weeks and months, we continued to dance together and grew closer to each other. After we had been dating for a while, he finally opened up about being diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1999 when he was only 19-years-old. He battled the disease for 10 years through many long-term hospitalizations, and several complications from the treatments before having his colon removed in 2008; a surgery that saved his life. I remember him feeling very uncomfortable during that discussion and unsure of how I would 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 that this disease and an ostomy did not define him.
After having ostomy 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 developed what is now the Stealth Belt. With the help of his mother Rita, he created many different versions of the belt before coming up with the 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 get back into the world. After months of confining himself to the house, Rita told him to get out and do something (just one thing) before coming 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 were married August 8, 2015 on a beautiful summer day. We’re now expecting our first baby girl in May of this year. I'm so thankful that he created an ostomy support belt that gave him some confidence to leave the house and meet me that night almost nine years ago. The Stealth Belt not only changed his life, but mine as well, and my hope is that our story will inspire others to venture outside of their comfort zone to go anywhere and do anything.
Call it coincidence, fate—in a moment, lives can collide and change forever. Yet chance encounters aren't necessarily accidental because, like Richard proved, you can create your own destiny just by opening yourself to the world.