A professional model and dancer has today told how it took doctors seven years to diagnose her with Crohn’s disease.
Natalie-Amber Freegard, of Swindon, began suffering symptoms of the agonising digestive condition when she was 17.
Doctors repeatedly dismissed her stomach pains and extreme weight loss, which saw her plummet to just five stone, as anorexia.
It was only when her life was hanging in the balance and she was rushed to hospital for emergency surgery that surgeons revealed she had Crohn’s.
Miss Freegard, now 27, was just ‘hours away from dying’ when she was taken in an ambulance, after collapsing at home and temporarily losing her sight.
Doctors found she had sepsis, when the body attacks its own organs in response to an infection. She believes it was responsible for her sight problem.
Miss Freegard pulled through the operation, despite her family being told to prepare for the worst. However, she was left with a stoma bag.
Natalie-Amber Freegard was just ‘hours away from dying’ when she was rushed to hospital after collapsing and losing her sight at home. Now, Miss Freegard has taken part in a photoshoot to expose her scars and banish the stigma surrounding stoma bags
Surgeons told her family to prepare for the worst, as they desperately battled to keep the now 27-year-old alive through two major operations (pictured in hospital in December 2017)
Miss Freegard has now began working with a personal trainer to regain her strength, so she can return to dancing and modelling
Recalling her ordeal in December 2017, Miss Freegard said: ‘The whole experience was terrifying. I was told I had developed sepsis and my kidneys were failing.
‘Doctors warned me that I was just hours away from dying if I didn’t consent to an emergency operation to save my life.’
Miss Freegard added: ‘For seven years my condition went undiagnosed.’ Crohn’s can weaken the immune system and make a sufferer more susceptible to infection.
Miss Freegard has now began working with a personal trainer to regain her strength, so she can return to dancing and modelling.
Miss Freegard suffered from agonising stomach pain since she was 17, revealing how sometimes it caused her to vomit.
She said: ‘The pain became so intense that it often caused me to vomit. I felt so weak and fragile.’
‘I made countless visits to the doctors where I was initially told I may have severe IBS and was advised to keep a food diary.
‘I tried changing my diet, but the pain only got worse. It wasn’t long before I couldn’t keep any food down at all.’
When she was 22, Miss Freegard began training at Wilkes Academy, a professional dance school for performing arts.
When Miss Freegard’s weight began to plummet at an alarming rate, her mother rushed her to A&E (it is unclear if she was pictured before or after her ordeal)
Despite her passion and desperation to succeed as a dancer, her severe stomach pains and constant bouts of sickness became a huge obstacle (pictured in hospital in December 2017)
It was only when her cousin, who suffers from Crohn’s herself, recognised a similarity in their symptoms and urged her to undergo an endoscopy
But despite her passion and desperation to succeed as a dancer, her severe stomach pains and constant bouts of sickness became a huge obstacle.
She added: ‘I often had to leave my dance classes early or take sick days as the pain was so unbearable, I couldn’t even stand up.
‘As I hadn’t yet been given a proper diagnosis, dance teachers and other students thought I was just being lazy or unreliable.
‘It put a huge strain on my career and eventually, I got too poorly to continue my training.’
When Miss Freegard’s weight began to plummet at an alarming rate, her mother rushed her to A&E.
There, doctors revealed she weighed just 5st (31.7kg) and immediately misdiagnosed her condition as anorexia.
Miss Freegard said: ‘Doctors kept asking me: “Do you like food?” and it made me feel so frustrated.
‘I knew I wasn’t anorexic and there was more to it. I felt hopeless as doctors weren’t taking me seriously.’
It was only when her cousin, who suffers from Crohn’s herself, recognised a similarity in their symptoms and urged her to undergo an endoscopy.
Miss Freegard said: ‘Eventually, I became too weak and had to give up dancing’ (pictured recently, with the scars of her operation)
Miss Freegard suffered her bout of blindness in December 2017. On one morning, her mother noticed she was looking pale (it is unclear who she is pictured with in hospital)
Now, Miss Freegard has taken part in a photoshoot to expose her scars and banish the stigma surrounding stoma bags (pictured with her stoma)
Yet despite countless pleas for a Crohn’s test, doctors turned Miss Freegard away as they were adamant she was suffering from anorexia.
Miss Freegard said: ‘Eventually, I became too weak and had to give up dancing.
‘I avoided modelling jobs as I was constantly sick on set and I became self-conscious of my frail body.
‘I was sacked from my part-time bar job as I was never well enough to go into work or finish my shift.’
Miss Freegard suffered her bout of blindness in December 2017. On one morning, her mother noticed she was looking pale.
She called Miss Freegard’s grandmother, who came to take care of her. But just a couple of hours later, Miss Freegard collapsed in a heap on her bedroom floor.
When she finally regained consciousness moments later, she claims she had gone blind.
In December 2018, one year after her major operations, Miss Freegard was finally allowed a reversal operation to remove her stoma bag
WHAT IS SEPSIS?
Sepsis, known as the ‘silent killer’, strikes when an infection such as blood poisoning sparks a violent immune response in which the body attacks its own organs.
It is the leading cause of avoidable death, killing at least 44,000 a year, and the Daily Mail has long campaigned for more awareness.
If caught early, the infection can be controlled by antibiotics before the body goes into overdrive – ultimately leading to death within a matter of minutes.
But the early symptoms of sepsis can be easily confused with more mild conditions, meaning it can be difficult to diagnose.
Sepsis has similar symptoms to flu, gastroenteritis and a chest infection.
- Slurred speech or confusion
- Extreme shivering or muscle pain
- Passing no urine in a day
- Severe breathlessness
- It feels like you are dying
- Skin mottled or discoloured
Symptoms in children are:
- Fast breathing
- Fits or convulsions
- Mottled, bluish or pale skin
- Rashes that do not fade when pressed
- Feeling abnormally cold
Her grandmother immediately called an ambulance and she was quickly rushed to hospital.
Surgeons removed her intestines and placed them into a stoma, while she was hooked up to a dialysis machine to clean her blood.
Doctors feared she may not be strong enough to survive the ordeal, and her parents were told to prepare for the worst.
However, Miss Freegard defied the odds to survive – despite being resuscitated twice on the operating table.
She said: ‘When I woke up two days after the procedures, doctors told me I was extremely lucky to have survived.
‘They said it was down to my physical fitness that I’d been strong enough to pull through.
‘They then revealed that I had Crohn’s disease. We were all furious that it had been left undiagnosed for so long.
‘I was distraught when I discovered they’d inserted a stoma bag. I felt ashamed and I couldn’t face looking at it for a whole week.’
Miss Freegard spent the whole month in hospital and was only allowed to leave for four hours on Christmas day.
She was wheelchair bound for the whole month. When she was eventually let home, she suffered with severe PTSD and depression.
Now, Miss Freegard has taken part in a photoshoot to expose her scars and banish the stigma surrounding stoma bags.
She hopes the candid snaps will encourage other young people suffering with the condition to embrace their own stoma scars.
Miss Freegard said: ‘At first, I really struggled to cope with my stoma bag and the permanent scars I’d been left with.
‘I felt I’d lost all my dignity, having to bring spare bags and a change of clothes with me every time I left the house in case of a leakage.
‘I thought I’d never be able to dance or model again.’
In December 2018, one year after her major operations, Miss Freegard was finally allowed a reversal operation to remove her stoma bag.
What is Crohn’s disease?
Crohn’s disease is an agonising digestive condition that blights the lives of 115,000 people in Britain and as many as 1.6 million in the US.
Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhoea and potentially dangerous weight loss. Magician Dynamo is a famous sufferer.
Eight out of ten patients will need a part of the intestine removed as it becomes so damaged it prevents digestion.
Its cause is still not known and there is currently no cure but some with the condition have considered their diet to be a factor.
However, bacteria is already known to play a major role in causing Crohn’s disease, in addition to genetics and diet.
Conventional treatment is with drugs that suppress the immune system’s production of a protein called TNF, which causes inflammation.