I’d like to share with you my journey in this story, particularly how challenging it has been with my many health diagnoses over the years, what led me to ileostomy surgery and how training in karate has helped me achieve more than I could ever have imagined!
I’d had ulcerative colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, since 2006. This was kept at bay through medication: it would often work for a time, then stop working effectively, meaning my IBD symptoms of daily blood loss, urgent toilet visits and in general poor life quality were persistent.
To make matters worse, I was experiencing very high liver function tests which after many procedures led to my diagnosis of PSC (Primary Schlerosing Cholangitis) which is a lifelong destructive liver disease of the bile ducts, a condition for which there is not only no cure, but also no effective medication. As that worsens, in time the only option will one day be a liver transplant which I thankfully have not reached the stage of needing yet. It created cirrhosis of my liver, which in turn led to portal hypertension a type of very high pressure in the portal system of bowel, liver, spleen and gallbladder.
Throughout all this, I would still live my daily life working as a shop manager, training in the karate and teaching other students too, being a husband and father, a friend and in general doing my utmost whilst living with it all.
In the summer of 2018, I started to reach a point of medical failure. My IBD was becoming more and more aggressive, and it was noticed how unwell I looked, with a gaunt appearance after struggling to maintain any weight due to all the toilet visits. Fast forward to January 2019 and I’d exhausted all medical options and was hospitalised. I could not eat a bite of food, nor sip a drink without needing to run to the toilet every time. It was explained to me I would need a subtotal colectomy as soon as possible but … there was a huge problem!
Due to the active portal hypertension, I had varices (veins in the oesophagus) that would make the surgery unsafe as they were a bleeding risk: in short, I needed the stoma operation, but I would not have survived it. I cannot communicate how this felt. My body was broken, and it could not be fixed. I was in hospital away from my family and I felt destroyed by this news. This affected me mentally… and I kept breaking down. It’s within those tearful times I found out what they meant. It was that I cared. That knowledge empowered me so much, it switched my thinking from worrier to warrior!
My bowel surgeon and liver team came up with a solution. I would need a liver stent procedure known as a trans-jugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS for short.) Through radiology this would connect my high-pressure portal vein to the lower pressure hepatic vein to reduce pressure in the portal system.
It worked! I had to wait for a further eight weeks before they could do the stoma operation. All through that time my students and fellow instructors were so supportive with visits in hospital, calls and even a card which wished me better soon. My fellow IBDers and liver disease friends were there in my corner with well wishes sent daily. The op went well, and believe it or not, within four months I was back teaching my class!
I will always be thankful to Professor Pinkney and Dr Trivedi and indeed all who helped me at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. It was a lot to get used to, but I wanted to see if it was possible. I wore a stoma support belt to help me.
In martial arts, we class the training grounds as the ‘dojo’. And we may often hear ‘Our greatest battles are outside of the dojo.’ For me, they most certainly have been. A further diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency (my body does not produce enough of the hormone cortisol to keep me well, so I have to take a less powerful steroid for this) and in 2020 a parastomal hernia, have made things very hard for me. Hard… yet not impossible!
I still teach my class weekly and have even set a goal of achieving my 3rd (San) Dan black belt grade, which only a select few are able to achieve at this level. I back up my karate training with going to the gym in my lunch breaks! Even trainers need training! It is one of THE most rewarding feelings to see another progress, both in the martial art world and in life too. You may never wear a black belt and that is ok. Yet having the mentality to find the joy in our sorrows, to keep going when it seems our own body is against us, to believe in ourselves when we are truly up against it … is something that I can wholeheartedly recommend.
This is something I’ve grown to respect not only about martial artists but about anyone who faces huge challenges with their health too. You may not even realise it, but YOU are making a huge difference to someone out there - simply by doing your day! They are looking to you and finding a person who is capable beyond any words I can type. They are finding an individual who has their own path and can lead others with their experiences.
If you are facing stoma surgery soon or perhaps even years into the future, I want you to know you CAN achieve. It will be on your terms, but it is hugely possible and definitely worth it! Until then, keep your guard up to life’s challenges: they will keep coming, but so will your improvement and tenacity.
Love and best wishes to you all,
Matt Timmins #yodamatt