A young woman whose interstitial cystitis left her barely able to walk powered on through a charity abseil just two months after life-changing surgery.
22-year-old Chloe Bullivant began having problems with her bladder two years ago, but initially suspected it was a regular infection.
After nine courses of antibiotics proved unsuccessful, the student was referred to a specialist urologist who, by using a small camera inserted into her bladder, discovered the urethra was very narrow.
Chloe underwent minor surgery to amend the issue, but while that proved successful for a time, in January 2018 the symptoms started to come back.
Antibiotics once again offered no relief, and tests conducted by a specialist urologist found no obvious cause for the problems.
Speaking about her ordeal to UNILAD, Chloe explained:
Over the next few months I got worse and worse, to the point where there was blood and chunks of flesh in my urine.
I could hardly walk and I’d lost over a stone.
The 22-year-old got back in touch with the specialist urologist, who administered a general anaesthetic to have a proper look at her bladder.
According to Chloe, the doctor had ‘never seen anything like it before; he thought it was cancerous’.
More specialists got involved in the curious case, conducting countless tests to try and determine what Chloe was suffering from.
The doctors finally decided it wasn’t cancerous, and determined her body was rejecting her bladder and her immune system was trying to fight it.
The student was diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, a bladder condition which the NHS describes as being ‘poorly understood’.
Struggling with relentless pain and with her bladder capacity now at less than 50ml, Chloe’s day-to-day life was terribly restricted.
She explained to UNILAD:
The pain was unbearable most days even with the ridiculous amount of painkillers I was taking.
I couldn’t do anything at all. I could occasionally go out for dinner with friends but I had to be cautious of what I ate as I was trying to do a low acid diet and a lot of the time I had to go home early because I was in so much pain.
I couldn’t drink alcohol or go out. I couldn’t work. I really couldn’t even walk very far and when it was very bad I couldn’t even sit up in the car, I had to lie down.
Everything I did had to be close to a toilet because my bladder capacity was so small.
After being diagnosed with interstitial cystitis, the only option for Chloe was to have her bladder removed with neobladder surgery.
At the time the student was part way through her veterinary nursing science degree at Hartpury University, but she had to put her studies on hold for a year while she underwent the operation.
The surgery was scheduled for September 2018, but was cancelled at the last minute as it could have put Chloe’s uterus at risk, meaning she could lose the option of having children.
After further research by the lead surgeon, in November 2018 the student underwent a surgery in which doctors created a new bladder out of her small intestine, in a way which allows her to still have children.
After 10 days in hospital, Chloe was released, having been informed the expected recovery time for her operation was between two and three months.
Check out the moment she surprised her parents by walking out to see them after the surgery:
Incredibly, after just three weeks, the 22-year-old was back horse riding, driving and swimming, and after just six weeks she was back at work.
She told UNILAD:
I’m just lucky that I’m young and my body recovers quickly. The physiotherapists came to see me at [the hospital] to get me walking again after the surgery, but the rest of it has been me. I’m very determined.
When I was told three weeks after my surgery that I could drive and exercise again I started straight away. I could only do a small amount of exercise at first because I got so tired, but I managed to gradually build it up by swimming, horse riding, doing yoga and I’ve recently started running again.
Crediting her surprisingly quick recovery to young age and good luck, the determined woman decided to take on a bigger challenge.
Chloe had planned a celebratory trip to South Africa following her surgery, and when the opportunity to take part in a charity abseil down Table Mountain arose she couldn’t turn it down.
Although it had only been two months since her surgery, the 22-year-old pushed herself to accomplish the task.
Describing her decision, Chloe continued:
I knew I would regret it if I didn’t do it, so I just had to do it!
The abseil was exactly two months after my surgery and I thought that would be a great incentive for people to sponsor me!
I probably should have been more concerned. All my close friends and family know I push myself too much and often make myself worse by cracking on – I think they were more concerned than me!
I didn’t find out after I’d signed up to the abseil that I’d have to walk back up after, that was the bit I was most concerned about because although I’m a lot better than I was, I’m definitely not as fit as I used to be and I’m still quite weak.
Chloe took part in the abseil to raise money for children’s charity Dreamflight, which, once a year, takes 192 children who suffer from serious illnesses or have a disability on an incredible holiday to Orlando, Florida.
The deserving children are accompanied by a team of medical carers, including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists and non-medical volunteers, who all work to care for the children 24 hours a day during the trip.
Chloe raised over £300 personally for the charity, while her abseiling group raised over £15,000 altogether.
Describing the abseil, the adventurous woman said:
It was brilliant. It was scary leaning back over the edge but with all the adrenaline and excitement we all had a great day.
It was a great personal achievement as I had no idea I’d be well enough to do anything like that already.
Chloe, who is now set to go into her final year at university in September, added how her life has changed thanks to her operation, saying:
I went from not being able to do anything at all to being able to live completely normally again, I really can’t believe how well it’s all gone. I’ll never take being healthy for granted.
It’s certainly an incredible achievement, and for an excellent cause. Well done Chloe!
To learn more about Dreamflight or donate to the cause, check out their site here.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.