You can hear the passion in David Rudzin of Vernon Hills, Illinois. He is president of United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA), which represents 335 affiliated U.S. groups. In short, an ostomy is a surgically created abdominal opening that bypasses a person’s diseased or missing digestive or urinary system in order to remove waste products.
“I developed ulcerative colitis when I was 19 months old,” said 57-year-old Rudzin in a telephone interview. “I’m one of those people that has never known what healthy is like. I suffered from cramps and diarrhea growing up and couldn’t eat certain foods, such as fruits, vegetables and popcorn.” Sometimes, he had to visit the bathroom 25 times a day.
When he was 18 in 1973, doctors during an eight-hour surgery had to remove his colon and give him an ileostomy, a type of ostomy in which the end of his small intestine was brought to the skin’s surface where waste products could collect into an external bag.
“When I awoke from surgery,” said Rudzin, “I couldn’t look at myself because I was too afraid. When I did look, I passed out. It was between my college freshman and sophomore years. I told my roommates if they breathed a word of it to anyone I’d slit their throats. I was mortified by what I looked like and didn’t know how to tell people. I tried dating, but didn’t know how to bring up the topic with girls. I thought nobody would ever want someone that looked like this.”
For years, he thought of himself as a freak. Then at age 35 in 1990, he began his personal journey toward self-acceptance by visiting the Chicago office of the Crohn’s and Colitis Association of America. He eventually served on its board.
Today, as UOAA president, Rudzin speaks freely and publicly. He said to others with an ostomy, “You are not alone. Come, let us help you. I know it can be difficult. I can empathize because I have been where you are and can help get you to where I am.” UOAA offers bi-annual conventions, educational information, hands-on support, and advocacy.
Rudzin said, “We want people to understand a stigma exists for people with an ostomy. We will be conducting an advertising campaign to defeat this stigma and educate the American public that ostomies save lives.”