Colon removal blessing for ulcerative colitis patient

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We first met 25-year-old Tiffany Chulavachana in August 2016 the day before she was scheduled to have her entire colon removed at Tampa General Hospital. 

Her doctors said her life would do a "complete 180," but that's exactly what she was hoping for. While the surgery may seem extreme, Tiffany said it was her best chance at overcoming the disease that was ruining her life.

Tiffany has ulcerative colitis - an inflammatory bowel disease causing her severe pain, diarrhea and bleeding.  Her immune system was attacking her intestines and medicines weren't working to stop it.

"Six pills, four times a day, or shots in my stomach, or go to an infusion center and sit there for four hours... it never went away. Nothing ever got better," she explained. "Losing a lot of blood and being anemic and not being able to... do normal things, like going to the grocery store. For a very long period of time, I didn't leave my house at all. I was terrified of having an accident somewhere. It's just been very difficult."

Tiffany said the last year and a half was especially tough.

"She's been through a lot," Tiffany's doctor, University of South Florida surgeon Jamie Sanchez said. "She has failed medical management substantially."

He said Tiffany has another problem that is making things even worse. It's a bacterial infection caused by Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, for short.  

"She has a superimposed infection on top of this very sick colon and likely will require this operation just to make her well," Dr. Sanchez explained. "If the colon is removed in its entirety, with the rectum, the disease can be cured."

Read Part 2 of this 3-part series on ulcerative colitis here: Boy's cancer scare turns to lifelong GI struggle

After this surgery, she'll temporarily need a bag, but will hopefully not need as many medications.

Six weeks and 47 days in the hospital later, Tiffany is happy to be on the other side of a long recovery.

"I’m just glad I’m out honestly.  My small intestine ruptured, so I had to get another surgery that made me stay in the hospital for even longer," she said.. 

In spite of those complications, she is happy she had the surgery. 

"I'm very happy with it. I have my life back. I don't have that pain anymore. I don't have to, like, go to an infusion center, get iron, get medicine, get blood."

Instead, she's going to restaurants, the gym and even the grocery store - and finally getting to enjoy what those trips bring.