Opting for an ostomy: a young woman’s journey with Crohn’s

Losing hope in the system

Abby Colling has had a long and challenging journey with Crohn’s disease. She was diagnosed at age 16, and for years tried many different medical and natural treatments that proved unsuccessful. She began to lose hope that her disease could be managed effectively. She became jaded with the health care system, and eventually stopped seeking professional help.

Unfortunately, her disease continued to progress. Though she was registered as a patient at McMaster University Medical Centre’s (MUMC) Adult Digestive Disease Clinic, she had stopped taking medication and attending appointments. Colling’s older sister, who has Ulcerative Colitis, was receiving treatment at the clinic from nurse practitioner (NP), Usha Chauhan, and it was going very well. The clinic has a special program where patients are followed closely by a NP who helps manage the different elements of their care. Empowered by her sister’s positive experience, Colling, returned to the clinic for a visit with Chauhan.

“That’s what started me on a path to taking care of my mental health. Before I was really hesitant to ask for help.”

“She’s made such a difference to me,” Colling says. “I’m not sure I would have taken care of myself without her support.”

Back on the road to better health

Under Chauhan’s care, Colling saw a psychiatrist at the clinic and was diagnosed with depression.

“That’s what started me on a path to taking care of my mental health,” Colling notes. “Before I was really hesitant to ask for help.”

Taking care of her mental health allowed her to take care of her physical health as well. She met with her family doctor and learned more about the risks and benefits of a class of medications called biologics that Chauhan and her doctor at the MUMC clinic had recommended. Biologics target a specific part of the immune system. Colling decided to start on the medication, but despite her renewed optimism, her disease was still not responding to treatment. She tried four different biologic therapies, and her body had little or no response to them. She continued to suffer from ongoing inflammation of her bowel. She was exhausted all the time and experienced side-effects of steroid therapy. The only remaining option was surgery to remove part of her bowel.

A life-changing decision

“She had really come a long way and was dedicated to taking care of her health,” Chauhan recalls. “Still, an ostomy is life-changing and that is difficult to accept, especially for a young person.”

An ostomy is a surgical opening made in the abdomen where part of the bowel is brought to the surface of the tummy. The body’s waste products move through this opening and a pouch is worn outside the body to collect them. For Colling, it would mean freedom from the pain and frustration caused by inflammation of the bowel. But this procedure is life changing, and living with an ostomy can be difficult. Before her surgery, Chauhan connected Colling with three patients at the clinic who have gone through the procedure, so she could get comfortable with the idea.

“You know when you go running with weights on your ankles and then get home and take them off? That is what this was like.”

“Abby discussed her concerns and was able to ask them questions,” Chauhan says. “She got an overall picture of coping and living with an ostomy. I think it’s important to develop an alternate care pathway when a patient feels frustrated with conventional care. Creating a peer-to-peer network can be very helpful for patients.”

Relief after 12 years of pain

Colling, now 28, went through with the procedure and is incredibly glad she did.

“You know when you go running with weights on your ankles and then get home and take them off?” she asks. “That is what this was like. Instead of feeling like my ostomy is a burden, it’s like a huge weight has been lifted off of me.”

Unburdened from constant trips to the washroom, unbearable pain and the disappointment that comes from failed treatment, Colling has been able to resume activities that she’d missed for years.

“When people think of an ostomy, they think of what gets harder. I think about what I can do now that I’m not dealing with the effects of my Crohn’s disease. Sure, I have to clean it, but that is nothing compared to pain and constantly needing to be near a washroom. I’m really excited to go camping and to travel.”

Crohn’s disease is a life long condition which can occur in any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Having part of her bowel removed does not mean she is free from her Crohn’s disease. Colling still needs to be vigilant and continue with medical therapy.

But she is glad to be enjoying life after struggling for years to manage her disease. She believes meeting with other patients who have an ostomy helped shape her positive attitude about the procedure. Chauhan is glad to see her healthy and coping well. One day soon, she may be on the giving end of peer-to-peer support.

BLOG: Our fast-growing Children’s Hospital will need a new home

McMaster Children’s Hospital, emergency department, childrens healthcare, mcmaster university medical centre, hamilton ontario, community, hamilton general hospital, our healthy future, dr. peter fitzgerald

Imagining a new hospital in a new location

By Dr. Peter Fitzgerald, President, McMaster Children’s Hospital

As any parent knows, kids grow up fast. One  minute you’re snapping them into a onesie and the next, they’re asking for the car keys.

I often get the same feeling about our McMaster Children’s Hospital. It seems like yesterday we were celebrating an official designation as Ontario’s newest children’s hospital; now, our 30th anniversary is only a year away. And talk about growing before your eyes: We are the fastest-growing of any children’s hospital in the province and are now second only to the Hospital for Sick Children in size (for number of patients and level of acuity).

During the last five years at our Children’s Hospital, we’ve seen an overall 25 per cent growth in inpatient activity, with a particular growth spurt in the Emergency Department (ED), where the number of visits ballooned by 120 per cent. The McMaster Children’s Hospital ED is now the busiest in our HHS family of hospitals.

As busy as we are today, we’re also thinking ahead to how we’ll serve the next generation of children and youth. Over the last two years we’ve been working on a long-range plan for all of Hamilton Health Sciences, called Our Healthy Future. The plan forecasts the services we’ll provide, and the facilities we’ll need, over the next 20 years.

“It seems like yesterday we were celebrating an official designation as Ontario’s newest children’s hospital; now, our 30th anniversary is only a year away.”

We have a bold and exciting vision for McMaster Children’s Hospital. Over the next 20 years we will see an increase of 1.2 million children in Canada, which equals the current population of Manitoba! So we know the growth we’ve seen will continue as the population of Hamilton and surrounding areas continues to rise. Although our services are by no means limited to inpatient care, let’s look at our projected bed counts as a simple example of predicted growth: today we have 161 Children’s Hospital beds and in 20 years we expect to need 231.

So, when we look down the road, we envision a new facility that is designed specifically for the needs of children and their families, and including women’s health services such as our high-risk obstetrics program. We see this new facility being located adjacent to the Hamilton General Hospital campus.

McMaster Children’s Hospital, emergency department, childrens healthcare, mcmaster university medical centre, hamilton ontario, community, hamilton general hospital, our healthy future, dr. peter fitzgeraldThere are many reasons why this location would be ideal – expectant mothers who need acute care services will have them immediately at hand, while children and their parents will benefit from close proximity to our beautiful new Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre, with its extensive list of outpatient programs for children and youth with special needs.

“Best of all, we’ll have room to grow and develop.”

Best of all, we’ll have room to grow and develop. Our current location at McMaster University Medical Centre, where we share space with the university, just can’t handle the long term needs we foresee. I’m excited about our vision for the future of our Children’s Hospital and I look forward to sharing more information as planning continues.

We envision a new Children’s Hospital to meet our community’s needs – one designed specifically for kids and their families.

Faces of HHS: Gary St. Julien

Gary St. Julien is the security lead hand at McMaster University Medical Centre (MUMC), McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH), and Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre (RJCHC). He has worked at Hamilton Health Sciences for 12 years.


Tell us about your first day at HHS. I was 21 years old and fresh out of college. At this point, I really didn’t know much about Hospital Security, but I was very proud to be working at McMaster Children’s Hospital. I remember being called STAT to the ER Department to deal with an intoxicated patient. The patient was 6’5 and weighed 300 pounds. I was nervous, to say the least!

“What I love the most about my job is helping people…I have the opportunity to be a lending ear and offer support.”

What do you love most about your job? I love that no day is ever the same. You can go from helping someone get in & out of a car, to running in response to a Code White. I think what I love the most about my job is helping people. Being able to help hospital staff with day to day issues and help patients who may be going through a crisis, are characteristics I love about my job. I have the opportunity to be a lending ear and offer support.

Describe your most challenging days at work. Whenever I think I have solved all of the problems, another one comes knocking at my door. It can be frustrating when you have other uncompleted tasks, but you have to prioritize. Just when I think I am getting ahead, I get called to assist staff with a patient who is not cooperating. Needless to say, my days go by very fast.

What do you wish you had more time for at work? Sitting down with my colleagues for extra face to face time, is something I wish I had more time for. There are definitely days that I may only speak to them on the phone from my office because of my workload. I believe it is important to find one on one time with your employees; it’s how strong relationships with trust are built.

What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you? I have a part time job as a Crisis Line Operator/Support Counsellor at a Federal Halfway house.

What are your favourite ways to spend your free time? I have 2 daughters, a 5 year old named Olivia and a 2 year old named Leia. Any chance I get to be with them helps me forget about any stress I may have. I also really enjoy running. It definitely helps keep me focused and relieve any stress.

“I always want to achieve success at a high rate and to me that means never being content with what I have.”

Tell us about your most gratifying experience at HHS. While I was working at Juravinski Hospital. I was called outside in the middle of the night to help someone who wanted to jump off the top floor of the Concession St. parking ramp. I took the elevator up to the roof. When I got off and she looked at me and said, “Don’t come any closer or I will jump!” I told her my name and that I was Security. She told me she wanted to end her life.

After 20 minutes of talking to her, she took my hand and came down from the ledge. I had so many emotions running through my body. My adrenaline was racing and my hands were shaking. This situation could have gone a different direction. I was very thankful she was able to listen to my voice and get her the help that she needed.

Gary St. Julien is a familiar face around Hamilton Health Sciences. He won the pie eating contest at McMaster Children’s Hospital’s 2016 Staff Appreciation Barbeque.

What are your short and long term career goals? I always want to achieve success at a high rate and to me that means never being content with what I have. My goal is to continue to build our department by strengthening the relationships security has with other departments within our organization. I love working for Hamilton Health Sciences. I see it as a lifelong career for me.

BLOG: The problem and promise of diabetes

by: Yvonne Mullan, advanced practice dietitian and Dr. Hertzel Gerstein, endocrinologist

Why do people get diabetes?

Many believe people develop type 2 diabetes solely because they have made the wrong diet and lifestyle choices. That isn’t true.

Type 2 diabetes currently affects about one in nine people over age 20 in Hamilton and about one in five people over age 75. It is now the most common chronic disease in Canada and causes many serious health problems that can reduce the length and quality of someone’s life. But we still don’t fully understand why some people get diabetes and others don’t.

Here’s what we do know:

• The tendency to get type 2 diabetes is inherited. People with a father, mother, brother or sister with diabetes are much more likely to get it than people with no affected relatives.
• Lifestyle and environment affect whether someone who is susceptible to diabetes ends up getting it.
• A number of things contribute to those lifestyle and environmental factors including how easily we can access physical activity, the variety, portion size and affordability of food in our area, how much sleep we get, and whether we live in poverty.

Some of these risk factors are difficult to control, and unfortunately, many are connected to socioeconomic status.

So you’re at risk. What now?

Luckily, there are simple tests that can let people know whether they’re at high risk for diabetes. With that knowledge in hand, we can help people reduce their risk.

Modifying your diet, increasing your physical activity, improving your mental health and taking the right medications can reduce the negative effects of diabetes.

Making moderate changes to diet and increasing physical activity is a good place to start prevention. There are also a variety of medications that can lower your chances of getting diabetes.

It takes a village

The benefits of these lifestyle changes and medications aren’t limited to prevention. Modifying your diet, increasing your physical activity, improving your mental health and taking the right medications can reduce the negative effects of diabetes. The Boris Clinic Diabetes Care and Research Program at Hamilton Health Sciences takes a interdisciplinary approach to treating diabetes because we know that people have better outcomes when they tackle all aspects of the disease. Anyone with diabetes can refer themselves to the program.

The more we know about diabetes, the better we can treat it, both on a personal and global level. In the Program, we’re working hard to study the causes of diabetes and the effectiveness of different treatment approaches. On a personal level, you can empower yourself by identifying your risk for diabetes and learning about different ways to prevent or manage it.

We can all play a hand in defeating diabetes.

Tackling diabetes…with song

Every day, clinicians and scientists at the Boris Family Clinic in McMaster University Medical Centre help people deal with their diabetes and look for new solutions to this common disease. Now they are using a novel approach: a music video.

“The goal is to de-stigmatize the disease and reduce barriers for people seeking help to manage their diabetes.”

The video, filmed with and sung by the staff of the Boris Clinic Diabetes Care and Research Program, is an innovative way to show patients and their families that a wide variety of health care providers are available to help manage the disease, says Dr. Hertzel Gerstein, medical director of the clinic.

“The goal is to de-stigmatize the disease and reduce barriers for people seeking help to manage their diabetes,” said Gerstein, who wrote the song. “We want people to know that we’re here to help, and that many effective therapies are available.

“We also had a great time producing the video.”

Watch the music video below and join the Diabetes Care and Research Program in de-stigmatizing diabetes!

Sarah’s story: finding happiness in the face of chronic pain

When Sarah was a student in university, she was injured in a car crash and left with serious chronic pain all over her body.

She tried to cope and push through the pain, but inevitably, it became too much to bear. The pain and its emotional side effects make it difficult for Sarah to work, study and socialize. She became very depressed and isolated.

Then she found the Michael G. DeGroote Pain Clinic at Hamilton Health Sciences.

On November 3rd, the Michael G. DeGroote Pain Clinic is hosting Party for Pain to raise money so they can help more patients like Sarah. Click here to learn how you can help!

Glen’s story: Regaining control in the face of chronic pain

Glen Thompson served in the Canadian Armed Forces for nearly 18 years, until an injury during training left him unable to move without incredible pain.

In the years that followed, he lost out on parts of his life that he had loved. He couldn’t work outdoors or hang out with friends, because his immense back pain was overwhelming. He began to distance himself from his wife and kids, because his pain made him short tempered and it was easier to be alone.

When his Veterans Affairs case worker recommended he visit the Michael G. DeGroote Pain Clinic at Hamilton Health Sciences, Glen wasn’t optimistic. He had experienced so many failed treatments that it was hard to see how this would be different. But he enrolled in the program anyway and after a few short days he realized it really was different.

Watch Glen’s story to see how the Pain Clinic empowered him to take control of his pain and take back his life.


On November 3rd, Glen will be celebrating his achievements at Party for Pain, a fundraiser that supports the Michael G. DeGroote Pain Clinic. Learn how you can take part or donate so the Pain Clinic can help more patients like Glen.


Faces of HHS: Eric Wood, chef manager

Eric Wood is a chef manager at McMaster University Medical Centre. He has worked at Hamilton Health Sciences for two years.

Favourite colour: brown/ book: about food- Soul of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman, not about food- Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland/ vacation spot: Bayfield, Ontario/ music: Canadian Indie rock including Young Rival, The Dirty Nil, Rich Aucoin, Hayden/ food: pork carnitas tacos with chili verde/ holiday: Thanksgiving


Tell us about your first day at HHS.
The first day in a new kitchen is always very anxious for me. Being unfamiliar with the layout and systems always makes me feel like I’m going too slow and am not useful enough. But my team was great and really made me feel welcome. Now I’m the one that’s telling new employees that we don’t expect you to be superman on the first day!

What made you enter your field of work?
Many people don’t know that I trained to be a Chemical Engineer before I took up cooking. I wasn’t bad at it, but my heart wasn’t in it. Engineering projects took months or years to complete and I was attracted to the instant gratification of cooking.

What do you love most about your job?
Surprising people. Most people don’t have a high opinion of cafeteria food. But we work really hard to change that perception. When a guest isn’t sure about a special I’ll offer a free taste. I love the surprised look when the food is better than they expected.

“It always feels great when we are able to do something like that for a patient.”

What do you wish you had more time for at work?
Cooking! Believe it or not I don’t get to cook very much at work. I write the menu, order our supplies and manage our inventory, train staff members, decide on production levels, and supervise our team. It doesn’t leave much room to actually cook. I love the challenge of my job but sometimes I long for the days of my apprenticeship when I cooked all day long and didn’t even know what a profit & loss statement was.

What do you do after work to unwind?
I’m a bit of music nerd and have taken up collecting records. On the weekends I might be found digging through the used records at Dr. Disc or taking in a live show.

Tell us about your most gratifying experience at HHS.
We had a catering order for cupcakes. They were for a little a girl on the ward who was having a birthday party and couldn’t leave her room. I surprised them with custom decorated cupcakes shaped like lady bugs, clouds & rainbows, and flower petals. Delivering them was really emotional. It always feels great when we are able to do something like that for a patient.


Faces of HHS: Janice Wheeler

Janice Wheeler is a biomedical technologist at McMaster University Medical Centre, working mainly on operating room (OR) equipment. She has worked at Hamilton Health Sciences for 28 years. She does preventive maintenance in a workshop setting, but also carries a pager and is occasionally called to trouble shoot a system issue in the OR.

Favourite colour: coral pink / vacation spot: Lake Huron and the Maritimes / food: lobster

What made you enter your field of work?

When I graduated from high school all I wanted to do was work and have fun so I worked as a server in many restaurants.

“The thought of doing hands on work in healthcare was very appealing.”

After a few years I decided to go back to school as a mature student but had no idea what for.  I remember going to a workshop that was promoting getting women into non-traditional work and seeing biomedical technology and electronics  as one of those options.

The thought of doing hands on work in healthcare was very appealing.  I saw it as a way to make a meaningful contribution without being in direct contact with patients. I didn’t think I could handle that part of health care but this really appealed to me.

I worked backwards, picking up courses like chemistry and upgrading my math.  Once that was completed I got a diploma in electronics and an additional diploma in biomedical technology.  I was a pioneer—there were very few women in this field when I started.  The majority of biomedical technologists are still men but there are a lot more women in the field now.

What do you love most about your job?

There are lots of things I love about my job. Biomedical technologists at HHS are empowered to troubleshoot what is wrong with a device and deal with it accordingly.  This can include ordering replacement parts, assembly and dealing with manufacturers and vendors.

We set our own priorities based on the needs of people who use the equipment.  Each day can be very different.  Sometimes what starts as a low priority job can be escalated by surrounding circumstances.  This brings challenges and sometimes you have to completely change what you had planned for the day so you can get an important piece of equipment back into action. Some days you feel like you are just putting out fires others can be spent doing preventive maintenance on equipment.

Janice Wheeler - web size-8

What is one thing you wish patients/colleagues knew about you?
With the financial stresses of healthcare there is a significant amount of old equipment across our sites at HHS.  Everything cannot be replaced so the Biomedical Technology Department tries to keep things going to the best of our ability.  I wish people understood that we can’t always fix things.  We don’t break the equipment we try to fix it to the best of our ability.

What are your favourite ways to spend your free time?
I enjoy cooking, especially if someone else is choosing the menu. I also like to spend time outside walking or sometimes just sitting. I have also recently started taking horseback riding lessons which are a lot harder than I expected.

When you tell people what you do, how do they usually react?
If someone I meet asks where I work, and I tell them Hamilton Health Sciences the next thing they say is usually, “are you a nurse?” When I go further and explain what my job involves they are usually really impressed and think what I do is pretty amazing. It makes me a bit bashful to hear the praise but I love what I do.

janice wheeler - poster




Nine spots to enjoy the outdoors at Hamilton Health Sciences

Hospitals aren’t just about operating rooms and IV drips. Each of our Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) sites has outdoor space where patients, families and staff can unwind and get fresh air. Being outdoors – or near a window with a view – can relieve stress and even help you heal.

Check out these beautiful places to get outside at HHS!


1. The gazebo at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital

The gazebo at West Lincoln Memorial Hospital is tucked away in a cluster of mature trees providing a beautiful, shady spot for patients, families and staff to unwind. It’s got lots of benches to relax on while you enjoy an outdoor lunch and a small pond to welcome frogs and birds into the space.

West Lincoln Memorial Hospital - web size-1

West Lincoln Memorial Hospital - web size-6


2. The courtyard at St. Peter’s Hospital

St. Peter’s sits on a beautiful property in Hamilton’s Blakeley neighbourhood. It’s full of foliage and shade trees with lots of nooks and crannies for some quiet time outside.

The courtyard is often bustling with activity and the covered patios that border it are a great place to sit and watch while staff and patients tend to the communal garden or pick fresh raspberries.

In the winter, the space becomes a wonderland of twinkling lights for everyone in the community to enjoy.

St. Peters - web size-5

St. Peters - web size-7

St. Peters - web size-1


3. The playground and therapy track at Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre

The outdoor playground at Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre is a place for our young patients’ imaginations to run wild. The creative design lends itself to both developmental rehabilitation and make believe play. The multilevel playground is accessible and was designed to include graduated challenges that can be incorporated into therapy.

Tucked behind the children’s playground is a serene therapy track. This multi-level pathway is used for bike, wheel chair and gait training so patients can practice on different surfaces and elevations. It’s also an outdoor testing ground for patients trying out new prosthetics and orthotics, and a quiet spot for staff to enjoy a quick break outdoors.

Ron Joyce Childrens Health Centre - websize-4

Ron Joyce Childrens Health Centre - websize-3

Ron Joyce Childrens Health Centre - websize-29


4. The play courtyards at McMaster Children’s Hospital

McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH) is lucky to have three bright and fun courtyards dedicated to family play. These sunny spaces are full of interactive toys for patients to use with their siblings and families. Getting outside can be challenging when you’re sick, but thanks to support from generous donors, these play spaces make it as easy as possible.

The play courtyards are located on the third floor of MCH.

McMasters Childrens Hospital - websize-1

McMasters Childrens Hospital - websize-3


5. The Healing Garden and rock garden at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre

The Healing Garden on the 3rd floor at Juravinski Hospital is a beautiful place to escape and relax. It is fully wheelchair accessible and has lots of benches for patients, families and staff to sit on while they read a book or have a snack.

Look out the a north facing window from the hospital’s east wing and you’ll see a beautiful tiered rock garden full of foliage and day lilies. It’s a gorgeous sight for patients to enjoy from their rooms.

juravinski hospital - web size-2

juravinski hospital - web size-13


6. The shaded patio at Hamilton General Hospital

The patio tucked behind Marketplace on Victoria, the cafeteria at Hamilton General Hospital, is a summer staple for staff. It’s also a great outdoor space for families and patients to get some fresh air.

It has plenty of picnic tables for an outdoor meal and large trees and a pavilion to provide shade. Since it’s easily accessible from the cafeteria, it’s a favourite spot to enjoy a quick coffee break outside.

General Hospital - web size-1


7. The therapy track at the Regional Rehabilitation Centre

The large green space behind the Regional Rehabilitation Centre was built with patient therapy in mind. The walking path is inlaid with distance markers to measure progress and elements like handrails, steps and benches can be used in the rehabilitation process.

The space is also dotted with tables and benches for patients, families and staff to enjoy a break in the sunshine or shade.

David Braley and Rehab Centre court yard - web size-2


8. The rock garden at the CIBC Breast Assessment Centre (BAC)

Stumbling upon the rock garden is like finding a hidden gem, tucked away in plain sight. It’s tough to spot from the road but when you approach, it’s hard to believe you’ve walked by this beautiful space dozens of times without noticing it.

It’s a cozy little hideaway- the perfect spot to read a few pages of a good book or listen to a podcast. The beautiful natural landscape provides a calming effect for patients who are undergoing testing or receiving results.

CIBC breast assesment centre - web size-6

CIBC breast assesment centre - web size-3


9. The picnic patio at McMaster University Medical Centre (MUMC)

This colourful outdoor space just reopened this summer. It’s a bright and cheerful oasis, centrally located behind the Corner Cafe. It’s beautifully sunny and dotted with brand new picnics tables waiting to host your lunch date or casual meeting.

McMaster Childrens Hospital - web size-16 (1)

McMaster Childrens Hospital - web size-17 (1)


Do you have a favourite space to add? Email us at share@hhsc.ca