On June 21st, 2014 the charity organization Crohn’s and Colitis UK posted a picture of one Bethany Townsend. As of this writing, the post has received nearly 250,000 likes, easily catapulting it to the status of viral. What was Townsend wearing in this popular photo? A bikini, an ostomy bag and a stoma cap.
Other sites, including Huffington Post picked up on the photo and the short article about Townsend, but failed to go into an explanation of what these items she’s wearing are and what they’re for. This led to a huge uptick in searches online for the word “ostomy” as people strove to understand why it was that Townsend needed bags to survive.
So here’s the short and sweet explanation: Ostomy bags are the term for any bag placed over a surgical opening on a body, generally in the abdomen region (you can see some examples of new bags here). The uses for these bags are to help with the work of organs that aren’t functioning properly or have been removed, such as all or part of the large intestine or the bladder. In cases such as Crohn’s disease, colitis, cancer or other issues, a surgeon will create a direct connection from the working parts to the outside of the body – creating a stoma (aka opening). Waste from the small intestine (or part of the large intestine or bladder) is dispelled through that opening, generally into a bag.
Ms. Townsend appears to be wearing an ostomy bag, and a stoma cap. The ostomy bag is there to capture the contents being emptied from her small intestine. The stoma cap, the smaller of the two items, is likely there to capture any small output from that particular stoma. As that stoma likely doesn’t produce waste on a consistent basis, it doesn’t need a full-sized bag. This is an assumption, of course, and everyone’s experience with stomas differs, but that’s a basic explanation of bags and caps.
It’s great to see such a positive response to Townsend’s photo, and to see so many people reply with proud pictures of themselves sporting ostomy bags.