This is Ste Walker, a 24-year-old from Halifax, England. Walker has Crohn’s disease, a condition that affects the digestive system.
Crohn’s is a chronic, incurable inflammation of any part of the gastrointestinal tract. It’s a painful and difficult disease to manage, and up to 1.6 million Americans have Crohn’s disease or the related condition ulcerative colitis.
Walker told Buzzfeed News that over the course of his life he’s had numerous complications associated with the disease, has undergone 80 operations to treat it, and hasn’t been able to have solid food or drink anything for the past two years.
Walker said that because he appears to be “normal” people often assume he’s healthy. He often gets questioned and sometimes harassed for using handicapped-accessible toilets, parking in designated spots, and using a cane or mobility scooter.
Fed up with the false assumptions people were making about him, Walker uploaded to Facebook on Oct. 25 these two side-by-side photos of himself — one with a shirt and one without — showing devices he uses to survive.
The post went viral and has over 30,000 likes and 10,000 shares to date.
In the post he details the many complications he faces and describes how the medical devices he uses help manage his condition. He ends the post with a plea to people to understand that outer appearances of healthiness don’t always equal health.
The post reads, in part:
So the next time someone says to me, “Well you look perfectly fine, why are you using that disabled toilet, or parking in that disabled spot, you’re conning the system, you’re not disabled, you don’t need that walking stick?”
Just stop and think maybe I just want TO BE FINE or to feel normal, you don’t know what I go through on a daily basis and you have no right to judge me just on your perception of me that you can see because you don’t no what goes on inside.
So stop and think before you speak, think about the struggle I’ve gone through just to get out of bed and get dressed and tried to look ‘normal’….
President and CEO of the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America Michael Osso echoed Walker’s sentiment.
Many patients with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis may look healthy, but are actually living with debilitating pain, inflammation, and much more that isn’t visible. It is critically important to raise awareness of these diseases by sharing stories like Ste’s and participating in events like Crohn’s & Colitis Awareness Week so that the public understands the magnitude of these diseases.
Walker said that he made the post as a way to vent and didn’t expect it to go viral. He said that the responses to it have been amazing, and that he receives tons of messages of support daily.
For more information on Crohn’s disease and other similar conditions, check out the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s fact book here.