Friday, August 2, 2013

Guest Post by Nathan Triplett: Ostomy Is Not a Tragedy

Nathan Triplett, 28, is an attorney, elected official, community activist and one of the most prolific posters on my Facebook news feed, although I have no idea how he finds the time. He gave me permission to repost the following enlightening message that he shared in Facebook yesterday:

As most of you know, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a teenager. Crohn’s is a chronic inflammatory condition of the gastrointestinal tract. I was in constant pain and I was scared to death. Scared not just of the disease, but of the possibility that I would require surgery and end up with an ostomy. I didn’t know anyone with Crohn’s or with an ostomy to turn to for straight talk about what lay ahead. For 10 years, I did anything and everything that I could to avoid surgery. Eventually, my condition deteriorated to the point where surgery was my only viable treatment option. In June 2009, I underwent a total proctocolectomy with ileostomy to remove the entirety of my colon and rectum and to create a permanent ostomy. Four years later, I can tell you that surgery changed my life. It has allowed me to live essentially pain free for the first time in as long as I can remember. My ostomy hasn’t stopped me from living life to its fullest. In fact, it’s helped me do just that.

Unfortunately, there’s still a great deal of stigma associated with this surgical procedure. Stigma that results in the perpetuation of myths and misinformation and leads to exactly the kind of fear that I felt when I was younger. Recently, the Cincinnati Police Department began running a campaign aimed at reducing gun violence that features images of people with ostomies. The gist of the campaign is to say to young people: "You don’t want to get shot, because you might end up with an ostomy." They are portraying ostomies as something terrible, something to fear. One officer is quoted saying: "You're not killed, but you're walking around with a colostomy bag and that's just not the way to get a girl's attention, by limping down Warsaw Avenue with a colostomy bag."

There’s no doubt that reducing gun violence is a priority of the highest order, but stigmatizing people with ostomies, and adding to the fear and misunderstanding that often surrounds conditions like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis, is the absolute wrong strategy. The author of this Huffington Post piece gets it right: ostomy is not a tragedy. Far from it. My ostomy changed my life for the better, just as it has for countless others. I don’t want any young person today to feel the fear that I needlessly felt about my Crohn’s and my ostomy. Tonight I’ll be writing a letter to Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory, encouraging him to rethink his strategy, and calling on the Cincinnati Police Department to end its stigmatizing campaign.

The Honorable Mark Mallory
Mayor of Cincinnati
City Hall
801 Plum Street
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

Four million Americans live with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, known as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and an estimated three-quarters of a million Americans live with an ostomy. Click here to read “Cincinnati Police Department: An Ostomy Is Not a Tragedy.” And click here for information provided by the United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc.

Nathan earned not one but two bachelor’s degrees from Michigan State University’s James Madison College, a master’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and a law degree from MSU’s College of Law. He’s an associate at Clark Hill PLC, a prominent law firm with offices in several states. Nathan has served on the East Lansing City Council for years – he’s currently the city’s Mayor Pro Tem – and is affiliated with the local Democratic Party, Rotary Club, the American Civil Liberties Union and Boy Scouts of America, among other groups. He’s been honored by the Michigan Municipal League, Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Lansing United Nations Association and others for his efforts to enhance the quality of life in his community. He makes Facebook better too.

Sources: Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society, United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc.


  1. Nathan, you make a wonderful spokesperson for this issue. Thanks for speaking up.

  2. This morning (Saturday), Nathan shared an e-mail in Facebook that was just sent to the United Ostomy Associations of America by the Cincinnati Police Department:

    To the Ostomy Community:

    Like many American cities, Cincinnati has seen an increase in the number of juveniles involved in violent crime. Many of these juveniles become victims and suffer traumatic injuries as a result. In developing a strategy we contacted a local hospital trauma center which has a presentation that illustrates some life changing consequences of gun violence.

    Unfortunately, one of the examples used was of a gunshot victim who was now required to utilize a colostomy bag; and the news chose to highlight a poorly chosen comment by a Police Lieutenant when airing the story. To use the example of an ostomy bag in this way was a mistake. Although there was no ill will intended, the results were hurtful to some in the ostomy community and this will not be repeated.

    I realize the way the news story was presented has offended many in the ostomy community, and for this I am truly sorry. As a result of the numerous contacts I received, including Ostomy Toronto and many similar groups, I have taken steps to ensure this does not happen again. I have spoken to the Lieutenant involved in the story and his commander. Both are extremely troubled that such a well-meaning attempt to reduce the number of juveniles involved in gun violence offended so many. I addressed this with my command staff and Public Information Office to ensure we are all educated on the issue and to prevent any future occurrences. I also contacted Mr. Jeff Brogan, General Manager of WCPO regarding this issue.

    I have attempted to individually answer emails, but I wanted to send a clearer message to everyone in the ostomy community. I am very sorry this happened and will work to ensure it does not happen in the future. I assure you this was a mistake on the part of well-meaning individuals and not a deliberate attempt to offend anyone.

    I hope you will accept this apology on behalf of the Cincinnati Police Department.

    Paul H. Humphries
    Interim Police Chief
    Cincinnati Police Department