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My name is Merida. I was born in October of 1973. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis at UCLA at the age of four, though symptoms presented within my first year of life. The disease became a way of life for my family and I, coping through the assistance of medication, nutrition, continual testing and lifestyle modification. I remained active as a child, though activities that involved being away from home (the bathroom!) were difficult. Riding the ski bus, slumber parties and public outings were cause for anxiety, worry and often pain. In one aspect, it was very difficult to grow up with such different concerns from my peers, but in another I am grateful to have never known anything different. The experience has shaped and molded me in some very amazing ways. I experienced flare-ups throughout middle and high school, with things taking a turn for the worse in my first year of college where I attended the University of Montana. My symptoms became so severe that I always arrived to class very early to ensure I could sit in the very closest seat to the door, and often had to run to the bathroom. I worked my way through college as a waitress, and often had to run away from a table in the middle of taking an order. Several times I had humiliating accidents in my car on the way home. For long periods of time, I stopped eating hoping that without food for my intestines to process, I wouldn’t have emergencies as frequently. Sometimes if I did eat before having to leave the house I would induce vomiting, afraid of what would happen when the food started to move through my body. My college experience did not include social activities as I was afraid to find myself in a terrible and “trapped” position. After graduating I moved to Helena, Montana and found a job in health and human services. Although my belly remained my nemesis, I had a nice office (right next to the bathroom!) and felt very comfortable there. Everyone in my environment was kind and as understanding as they could be. The second year into my employment, my disease became worse yet, and I sought treatment at the Mayo clinic. I received an Ileoanal anastomosis, or J-pouch surgery. My entire large intestine was removed. (Apparently, under anesthesia, I asked to keep it and the best I could get was a 5X9 glossy which I kept on the refrigerator for years...the epitome of class!) I had a wonderful, though lengthly and painful experience at Mayo, and attempted to return home to Montana after three weeks. The night I was to leave I had an intestinal complication that kept me another two weeks. Upon arriving home, I was healing for a couple weeks when it happened again, this time in the bathtub. Luckily having my cell phone near, I called for help and was transported by ambulance to the emergency room in Helena, then back to Mayo by emergency jet. I will never forget that trip. I remember the faces of the paramedics on the flight, and that one of them was eating Fritos chips and a Ruby Red Squirt. I was so thirsty and not allowed to drink, that this remains the drink I crave when I am really parched! After another couple of weeks at Mayo, I returned home again and did fairly well for about a year. During that year, my surgery site began scarring and narrowing. I made another trip to Mayo and had things “stretched out.” I did well with this for several more years. I had less emergency situations, though my food generally moved through me within 20 minutes, with little digestion having occurred. While visiting my family in Florida, I began to notice a large lump close to my left sits bone, pushing in toward my vagina. I saw my OBGYN for this, and it was thought that perhaps it was a Bartholin’s cyst. The lump was drained and packed, and promptly returned. After several cycles of this, I saw a surgeon, who noticed foodstuffs in my vaginal canal. After an MRI, I learned about fistulas. I continued my immunosuppressant medications, adding Remicade infusions to my regimen. I should note here that as a result of my physical challenges throughout these years, I steeped myself in anatomy and physiology education, became a personal trainer, and returned to college to attain the prerequisites for a Physical Therapy degree. I eventually stopped working in social work and committed full time to physical fitness training. I built a wonderful private clientele, many of whom I continue to work with or counsel today. During that time, I learned about Pilates as an avenue to regain strength in the muscles of my abdomen, weak from trauma and surgery. I learned more and more, and felt that I had found my passion. I began researching pilates certification opportunities and attended an IMX Pilates certification course in New York City. After completing my apprenticeship hours, I began teaching, building a clientele and eventually decided to forgo physical therapy school and opened an IMX Pilates studio of my own. It felt amazing to be able to practice what my heart truly desired, and to learn the intricacies of building a business at the same time. I was very fortunate to hire wonderful trainers and assist them in becoming certified to teach pilates. I continued my pilates education and training, and absolutely loved it. As the studio grew, I expanded and remodeled an adjoining space. It was during this process when my fistulas became so severe that I had waste regularly draining from my skin near the sits bone, the infection finding a way out of my body through the original abscess. It is strange in retrospect what we can make seem just normal daily living, not letting anyone know what is really happening. I allowed myself to become sick enough that I couldn’t leave my house. A friend found me and took me to the hospital, and I immediately had surgery on the fistulas. I then spent four months on IV nutrition before my complete ileostomy at the University of Washington. After a six week recovery, I returned to my studio. My tiny staff was wonderful, and the doors did not have to close one single day during my absence. This last surgery was September 20, 2008. I have spent the last four years learning how to thrive with my ostomy. Aside from skin issues around the appliance, I have no pain for the first time in my life. I focus on this when I get frustrated about the challenges all ostomy patients face. I am able to easily teach my students about fitness and nutrition, sharing my experience when appropriate. I believe that my journey has made me a much better instructor and advisor, as well as providing a positive example in overcoming obstacles and living life.

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