Being a teenager is challenging, but for 16-year-old Charlotte Livingstone, she's constantly challenged by a condition that will stay with her for the rest of her life.
Diagnosed with Crohn's disease at the tender age of 12, Charlotte Livingstone can't remember what it was like before her "new normal". But she's built a passion to advocate awareness in New Zealand as the Youth Ambassador for Crohn's and Colitis NZ.
Crohn's disease is an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the digestive system. It triggers chronic inflammation in the digestive tract, leading to distressing symptoms such as abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, blood loss, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition. The disease can impact any part of the digestive tract, from the mouth to the anus, causing significant discomfort and disruption to daily life.
For Charlotte, living with Crohn's disease is a balancing act. Her treatment regimen includes weekly injections into her abdomen and a multitude of tablets that she must take twice daily. Additionally, she receives medical and nutritional liquids through a surgically inserted tube in her stomach. Being hooked up to a pump for at least two hours a day is time-consuming and affects her energy levels. And as a result, she often finds herself needing more sleep than the average teenager.
But Charlotte's story is not unique. In New Zealand, over 20,000 people grapple with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (an umbrella term for both diseases.) And only when Charlotte was diagnosed herself did she realise how few speak up about the disease. Raising awareness about these conditions is crucial to facilitate essential changes, such as securing funding from Pharmac for life-changing medications.
An initiative close to Charlotte's heart is the "I Can't Wait" campaign, which aims to address the fear and challenges faced by individuals living with Crohn's and Colitis. Many sufferers experience anxiety about having an accident in public due to the unpredictable nature of their symptoms. Crohn's and Colitis NZ has developed a card that patients can present at toilets, allowing them to bypass queues or access business and workplace facilities when public restrooms are unavailable. Businesses can also support those with IBD by displaying the "I Can't Wait" sticker.