SIMON Stones’ childhood was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease aged just 14.
The debilitating illness means Mr Stones suffers with chronic fatigue, abdominal pain and malnutrition.
But the 20-year-old from Daisy Hill refused to let the disease stop him from going to university and having a full social life.
Crohn’s is an autoimmune condition affecting the bowel.
It is caused when the immune system triggers the release of a protein — tumour necrosis factor-alpha — which kills the ‘good bacteria’ in the gut.
Chron’s causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system and can affect anywhere from the mouth to the back passage.
As well as the symptoms Mr Stones experiences, Crohn’s patients have to live with diarrhoea, constipation and weight loss.
About 115,000 people in the UK have Crohn’s, with most diagnosed between their mid-teens and late 20s.
One of highest profile sufferers is The Only Way Is Essex star Sam Faiers and new figures suggest that it is on the rise.
There has been a 300 per cent increase in the number of 16 to 29-year-olds receiving treatment in England for Crohn’s in the past 10 years, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.
Scores of sufferers took to the web last week to share “selfies” of their colostomy bags — prompted by model Bethany Townsend’s proud post of herself in a bikini on Instagram.
Mr Stones, who is in his second year at Manchester University, has welcomed the discussion and says he wants to improve support for children and teenagers living with Crohn’s.
The biomedical sciences student has given talks to young patients at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and has already taken part in research for a new mobile “app” for Crohn’s sufferers.
He said: “I want people to know that your life doesn’t have to stop because of Crohn’s disease.
“I always knew I wanted to go to university and I was determined to not let my illness get in the way of that.
“I’ve just had to learn to live with the constant discomfort caused by Crohn’s.
“It’s is often triggered by stress, which means you’re always worrying about whether you’re going to need to run to the toilet. It can be embarrassing too because my stomach makes all sorts of noises in lectures.”
Mr Stones’ health problems started as a three-year-old when he developed arthritis, another autoimmune disease where the body attacks itself.
The arthritis meant the St Joseph’s High School pupil could not take part in any sport and eventually the affliction put him in a wheelchair.
Doctors did manage to treat the arthritis, but Mr Stones was still suffering with symptoms of the undiagnosed Crohn’s disease.
He was going to the toilet up to 12 times a day and suffered with stomach pains.
His mother, Sandra Stones, pleaded with doctors for a further investigation until they were referred to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
A camera inserted down Mr Stones’ throat revealed ulcers all the way down his oesophagus to his stomach, confirming he had Crohn’s.
He was put on a polymeric diet for eight weeks to boost his nutrients and bring down the inflammation of his bowel.
He said: “It was really tough because I was taken off all foods.
“All I could think was how much I fancied a plate of chips or a normal dinner instead of those milky drinks. It was really hard to stick at it for so long but I knew I had to get on with it.
“The pain and the fatigue are the hardest things to deal with. It feels like you’re being knifed in the stomach sometimes.
“That in itself is exhausting. You can have 12 hours sleep and still wake up exhausted. I’ve had to learn to plan around the tiredness.
“If I want to go out at night with my friends I have to make sure I have a day off the next day.”
Mr Stones, of Daisy Hill, is hoping to carry out research into arthritis once he has graduated from university.
He also wants to improve the transition from paediatric to adult hospital care to help those suffering from Crohn’s.
He added: “I think it’s good that more people are talking about Crohn’s disease but I think more could be done to help young patients adjust to adult care.”
For more information about Crohn’s Disease, go to: crohnsandcolitis.org.uk