Natasha, 12, goes the extra mile to help children with Crohn’s

Natasha  Parker, 12,   Picture Bruce Rollinson
Natasha Parker, 12, Picture Bruce Rollinson
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In November Natasha Parker was diagnosed with the cruel bowel condition Crohn’s Disease. Now she is helping others with the same condition. Catherine Scott reports.

Looking at Natasha Parker now she looks a picture of health.

But just a few months ago Natasha was too anxious to go out shopping with her mum.

The then 11 year old had suffered months of stomach pains and cramps which culminated in being rushed to A&E during a shopping trip.

Natasha was eventually diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system or gut. Now the 12 year old has written a book to help other children suffering the condition.

Crohn’s Disease affects more than 115,000 people in the UK. The disease can start at any age, but usually appears for the first time between 10 and 40. Surveys suggest that new cases of Crohn’s are being diagnosed more often, particularly among teenagers and children. Symptoms vary but often include stomach cramps and diarrhoea.

Natasha started getting really bad tummy ache and stomach problems in May last year which went on for a couple of months.

“I went to the doctors but they just thought that I was a bit stressed and there was nothing really to worry about,” says Natasha, 12, from York.

“They kept saying come back in a few weeks but things didn’t get any better. I am a bit of a worrier and I do get anxious about things and it didn’t help that they didn’t seem to know what was wrong with me and the symptoms were getting worse.”

Natasha’s grandma is a Coeliac, which means she cannot eat anything with gluten in and the thought Natasha may have inherited it, but a blood test ruled that out.

But then one day when Natasha and her mum were in town shopping she got really bad cramps which they thought was appendicitis so went to A&E.

“They did some tests and said it was appendicitis,” says Natasha’s mum dawn. “They thought she might have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).”

After that was ruled out, Natasha was referred to a specialist – and an endoscopy and colonoscopy showed Natasha had Crohn’s Disease.

“I had heard of it but thought it only happened in older people and not children,” says Dawn.

Although it was a relief to have a diagnosis it meant Natasha had to go on steroids to reduce the inflammation in her gut.

“I got quite anxious about the steroids,” recalls Natasha.

“My mum suggested writing down how I felt to help me deal with it,” recalls Natasha.

“A friend found an app which was brilliant as you could add things in whenever you wanted. I really enjoyed it and it helped me cope with what was happening to me.”

Charity, Crohn’s and Colitis UK heard about Natasha’s diary and they are in the process of getting it published.

“It is great to think that my diary could help other children to know that, especially when they are first diagnosed, that things do get better and that you can lead a normal life.”

Natasha is a good example of that. She started high school in September and is doing really well, she attends ballet and musical theatre classes.

She is still nervous about sleepovers, but she hardly ever needs to take the steroid any more unless the Crohn’s disease flairs up.

“We a re on the waiting list to see someone to help her to try to stop being so anxious,” says Dawn

“We know now that stress is a big trigger for Natasha where is other people it can be something they eat. If she can control her anxiety and stress then that will help her physically.”

As well as writing her diary, Natasha is taking part in this weekend’s Walk It York.

The 5km and 1okm walks takes place on Sunday starting at The Hospitium in the Museum Gardens.

“For me it isn’t just about raising money for research into Chrohn’s Disease,” says Natasha.

“It is about raising awareness of the condition. Not many people have heard of it which can be frustrating. But when people ask what is wrong with you and tell them you have Crohn’s Disease they almost always say: ‘What’s that?’ And it is really quite hard to explain. It would make life a lot easier if more people knew what it was.”

X Factor finalist Rylan Clark-Neal has given his backing to the Walk It campaign to highlight the effect IBD has on the whole family

“My mum has lived with severe Crohn’s Disease since 1984, four years before I was born and the condition really shaped my childhood,” he says.

“She has had to undergo multiple operations to remove damaged parts of her bowel and she takes medication every day. When I was growing up, I thought my mum was the only person with the condition. I am supporting Walk It to help other families know that they are not alone. The walks programme is an amazing opportunity for everyone to come together as a community, and stand together in the fight against Inflammatory Bowel Disease. My mum often felt embarrassed about her diagnosis, but nobody with Crohn’s or Colitis should feel like this. The Walks are a brilliant way to raise awareness of these conditions and vital funds.”

There are six Walk It events around the country in a bid to raise awareness of the condition and money for research through sponsorship.

As for Natasha at the moment her condition is under control, but she and her family know it could flare up at any moment, such is the nature of the disease for which there is no cure.

“We are very proud of the way she gets on with her life,2 says Dawn. “She has had very little time off school despite having to go to hospital appointments in Leeds and York. She refuses to let it stop her doing the things she loves.”

To sponsor Natasha visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dawn-Parker2

Backed by TV Presenter Rylan Clark-Neal and former TOWIE favourite Sam Faiers, both with personal experience of Irritable Bowel Disease, WALK IT encourages anyone who can to join in to show their support in the fight against Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, the two main forms of IBD.

The York walks (5km & 10km) will be starting at The Hospitium in Museum Gardens at 11am, before walkers enjoy the sites of the city, including the River Ouse, York Minster and City Walls on Sunday.

For more information or to register visit https://www.crohnsandcolitis.org.uk/get-involved/fundraising/walk-it-york