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Kelsie was 17 when she was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness. The disease causes internal bleeding, immune system issues and failure of the digestive system, with Kelsie’s bowel being her worst affected organ.
After years spent trying to control her illness with medications, including a year and a half of oral chemotherapy and multiple study trial drugs, Kelsie made the difficult decision to go ahead with ileostomy surgery. The procedure involved removing Kelsie’s entire bowel and replacing it with an ileostomy bag.
“It was terrifying and I felt so alone. I didn’t know anyone else who had this condition; I was embarrassed and was always trying to hide my illness. I was studying at university and only dreamed of having a normal life like so many around me,” Kelsie explains.
At the time of diagnosis, Kelsie was a young woman; no longer a child, but not yet a legal adult. Kelsie worked with medical specialists to determine the best treatment plan for her and she began attending appointments at the new Mater Young Adult Health Centre in Brisbane, a unique service specially designed to address the needs of young adults with chronic illness.
Established in 2015, Mater Young Adult Health Centre Brisbane cares for patients aged 16 to 25 with chronic conditions such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cystic fibrosis. It's the first of its kind in Queensland and one of only a few young adult health centres in Australia.
“I honestly don’t know how I would have survived if it weren’t for the doctors and specialists at Mater’s Young Adult Health Centre.”
“The centre enabled me to bridge the divide between the adult's hospital and the stage of life that I was at. The space is very inviting; everything from the wallpaper and the furniture, to interactive spaces where you can study or meet other young people—but really it comes down to expertise. Someone who understands how to communicate with you as a young person is going to treat you better,” Kelsie said.
Thankfully, Kelsie’s surgery was a success.
“Just before my surgery I was in so much pain that I was honestly prepared to die. I was an 18 year old girl with a funeral plan in place. I can’t believe how good my life is now. Not a day goes by where I don’t think to myself ‘oh my goodness - I’m catching the train, I’m walking, I’m breathing, I’m living a normal life!’”
After undergoing an additional four surgeries, including a reconstructive procedure in which her ileostomy was removed, Kelsie was able to fulfil her dream of travelling the world, including extended visits to Asia, Europe and America with a trip to New Zealand on the horizon for later this year.
Kelsie currently works for Queensland University of Technology and is working towards her goal of leading large scale project management and marketing campaigns. She one day hopes to be able to travel internationally for her work.
Kelsie still attends weekly appointments at Mater’s Young Adult Health Centre, where she sees a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, surgical specialist, psychologist, art therapist, dermatologist and specialist dietician, who help her to manage the symptoms of her illness.
“Everyone in my healthcare team is specialised in treating young adults, which is fantastic,” Kelsie says.
Despite the health challenges she has faced, Kelsie is unfailingly positive when she talks about her time at Mater’s Young Adult Health Centre.
“Am I happy with the service? 110 billion million trillion percent,” she says.
“The centre at Mater gave me something to live for. There’s inspiration there, creativity and positivity—it's what life is all about. I can 100 per cent say that if it weren’t for Mater’s young adult doctors and specialists, I wouldn’t have had the capacity to deal with what happened to me.”
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