A woman who was struck down by a terrible digestive condition has told of how she believes swimming helped cure her.
Doctors told Jane Hatwell, 44, to avoid eating solid foods in February 2015 after she began suffering from blood loss and sickness. Instead, she survived on a diet of prescription drinks for eight months.
Hatwell, who is from Romford, Essex, has ulcerative colitis, a long term condition where the colon and rectum become inflamed.
She saw little improvement in her condition through using traditional medicines, but when she swam 22 miles - the equivalent of the English Channel - in 22 days, her symptoms miraculously disappeared.
"I lost my identity, freedom, social life, independence, things we all take for granted," she said. "Gradually that was chipping away at my confidence and self worth.
"I pretty much went from the hospital bed to the pool. There's no other way something else made me better."
Hatwell began getting symptoms similar to food poisoning in 2008. The stomach cramps, pains, excessive tiredness, and blood loss carried on for six months.
"It was frightening when I started losing blood – it was like a massacre," she said.
"I thought I had cancer as I was losing blood when I went to the toilet. I was terrified and I was losing weight."
Within a few weeks, Hatwell went to her GP and was referred to Queen's Hospital, Romford for further tests.
For the next six months, she was in and out of hospital.
Shortly after, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and doctors put her on medication to enable her to live her life normally.
In early 2009, she asked her GP to be transferred to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, East London, as a friend had recommended a specialist there.
Within four months, her condition stabilised and she was soon in remission.
For five years, life ticked along as normal. But then, in September 2014, the symptoms came back with a vengeance.
By Christmas time, she was back at the Royal London Hospital, hooked up to a drip.
"I began to have symptoms again, but it had been so long I kind of tried to ignore it at first," she said.
"I had taken myself off the drugs in 2012 because I believed I was cured.
"My health spiralled downhill for a seriously long period of time. This time around was much worse, even more severe and ongoing.
"I entered what felt like a dark extra long tunnel with no light in sight."
She added: "When on relapse, nothing is normal at all. Your body rejects foods and even fluids. You're malnourished, exhausted and in constant pain."
For a year, Hatwell slept a maximum of two hours per night due to a constant need to go to the toilet and relentless pain.
"I was alive and breathing but existing in a bubble watching everyone else live their lives," she recalled.
Hatwell was in hospital for a couple of weeks and was then given medication to control her symptoms.
In February 2015, she was placed on an eight-month all liquid diet.
"Living on prescription food drinks for eight months solid, with no normal foods, was very tough to deal with too," she said.
"Food is everywhere - on TV, adverts, family life, social events, birthdays, celebrations and special occasions."
Towards the end of that summer, she read about the Aspire Charity Swim online, a challenge which involves swimming the 22 mile stretch of the English Channel – but you complete the distance over a 12-week period in your local leisure centre pool.
The fact it could be done over a period of time attracted her as it was possible for her to enter and fit it around her illness. Plus, she had always been into swimming, running, cycling and horse riding so was keen to try it.
"My family thought it was a crazy idea and I never told any of the medical professionals who were dealing with me at the time as I think their reaction may have been shock horror as I was knocking on deaths door," she said.
"I had always been a keen charity fundraiser, entering many fitness events, but since being sick I had lost everything I knew about myself including this.
"This swim seemed reachable and what a worthy cause to raise money for than those who have suffered paralysis through spinal injury."
She continued: "Although I had no connection to this, I had been frozen in time for over a year and felt paralysed in a different way. So I literally went from hospital to poolside.
"I didn't have any training – I got in the pool and took part and adrenalin got me through."
Hatwell said she started the challenge weak and by the end was not only stronger but had also eased her symptoms.
"I had only had one dose of a new trial drug infusion at this time and was only a couple of weeks into the drug and there I was at the amazement of my consultant - in remission.
"This became a medical mystery and the only conclusion they could come up with was my 22 mile swim in 22 days.
"Emotionally this has been a really bad trauma I never thought I would come out of.
"This really has been the case of sink or swim and although I am still not on top of this mountain I am on the climb which has got to be a bonus."
To register for the Aspire Channel Swim 2016 go to www.aspirechannelswim.co.uk.
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