Brittani Nicholl Intro by Eilish Emery | Words by Brittani Nicholl | Images by Michael Hayes | Designed by Madison Watkins Brittani Nicholl is a surfer. She loves the ocean and it is here that she has found her passion. On the outside Britt is like any surfer girl, she lives and breathes surfing and is most happy when she is out in the water. However what many people would not guess is that for years she has been living with an at times crippling disease with symptoms as unpredictable as the New Zealand weather. Yet this has not stopped Brittani from doing the things she loves. She is the perfect example of a ‘glass half full’ type of girl. Anyone who comes into contact with Brittani will realise she is a true role model for how to live your life despite adversity. I think we could all learn a little from this girl who continues to cross the finish line before her disease every time. Brittani Nicholl has been living with Crohn’s disease ever since she was 7 years old. For those of us who aren’t too clear on what Crohn’s is, it is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). This is where the body’s immune system attacks the gastrointestinal tract causing inflammation and ulceration with any part of the gastrointestinal tract from the mouth to the anus, but most commonly affecting the small intestine and/or the colon. Within a diseased section, Crohn’s disease can affect all layers of the intestinal wall, not just the lining. We caught up with Brittani when she visited New Zealand earlier this year to compete in the Taranaki Surf festival. We were keen to see her surfing again however, she had to withdraw from the competition the day before due to developing an abscess which required immediate surgery. Although devastated to miss the competition, in her usual positive fashion Britt made the most of her time in NZ and with her boyfriend Michael, explored the local region where she climbed Mt Taranaki and made her very first snowman. Brittani generously gave us a background to her life of living with her disease and how she has overcome its evils. Brittani takes up her story. “Prior to being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease I attended the doctors on a few occasions, only to be diagnosed with giardia. Though due to still being unwell I returned to my local GP who then referred me to a gastroenterologist in Brisbane, in which after further investigation it was found that I had Crohn’s. I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at just 7yrs of age, which at the time was very surprising to find it in someone so young. Some 18 //curl #42 of the symptoms I endured include, abdominal pain, lack of energy, rectal bleeding, weight loss, skin problems, fevers, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, and anemia. I’ve had plenty of hospital admissions over the years but 4 major admissions. Two which took place when I was at the ages of 10 and 11 years; with one stint being 6 weeks and the other being 9 weeks, where I received a central line and was being fed through a tube. Growing up with the disease wasn't an easy thing, especially with the symptoms I was dealing with. It was actually a common thing for me at times to have to go to the bathroom 15+ times during the day/night. I was on one medication in particular, prednisolone, which caused me to have a fuller and round face whilst also putting on weight. Coping with this at school wasn't the best; most kids knew I was sick although it was hard to understand what I was going through and why I was like that, so I did cop a little bit of bullying not only off kids but also one or two teachers throughout my schooling years. In the May of 2007 at age 16 I was weighing in at 43kg, it was at this time that I was told the news that that nobody wants to hear; major surgery was inevitable due to a stricture (narrowing) in my bowel. The surgeon advised me that without further investigation they would not know the full extent of the surgery needed. Due to this, the doctor gave 3 possible outcomes: 1. Have a bowel resection and require no bag. 2. Have part of my bowel looped and require a temporary ileostomy bag. 3. Have all of my bowel removed and require a permanent colostomy bag. I came out of surgery with 30 cm of my colon removed, which was where the structured bowel was, which meant I did not require a bag. You could have imagined the excitement!! But that excitement was very short lived and two days after leaving hospital I was at home when a major haemorrhage occurred, I was rushed into emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and receive blood infusions. After a very near death experience I was then home for a month, though ended up in hospital with more complications, to a point where I spent weeks in complete agony. The doctors tried everything, to a point I was in hot and cold sweats hallucinating from a mixture of pain medications, but nothing