Saturday, May 19, 2018

Swimming with Crohn's: The Caitlyn Hamilton Story

You may remember a couple of months ago we brought you news of how Caitlyn Hamilton, a young swimmer from Lanark ASC, was overcoming the odds and continuing to swim despite her ongoing battle with Crohn’s Disease, a condition that causes inflammation of the digestive system or gut.

And what better way to raise awareness within the swimming community on World IBD Day (World Inflammatory Bowel Disease Day) than by telling you more of Caitlyn’s story, now that her condition is improving and the feed tube she was previously forced to depend on has been successfully removed. Scottish Swimming caught up with her and her mum, Lyndsay at the local pool in Carluke, on the eve of her tube being taken out.

“It made me so tired all the time. And because I couldn’t eat I was really drained. Swimming was like the only thing that made me feel still normal, but it was still quite hard because I would get tired more easily.”

That’s how Caitlyn sums up the impact her Crohn’s Disease has had on her since being diagnosed at the beginning of February. She was forced to be fed from a tube for eight weeks, surviving on little else. Lyndsay and Caitlyn demonstrated to us how the feed is administered and it is a complex process, but with a positive attitude they got through it. And right from the beginning of her diagnosis, Caitlyn was determined to not let it overpower her and bring her down, no matter how hard things became.

“After I got diagnosed I still wanted to swim and compete, and two weeks after it I had West Districts and I got a PB.” And how did that brilliant achievement make her feel? “Really good,” she said. In March she again smashed the odds, picking up a host of medals - including golds - plus PBs at the Ren96 Graded Meet.

Despite the annoying nature of having a tube feeding into her nose, Caitlyn still rocked up for swimming club as she always did, with her cap, goggles and swimsuit in tow. We watched as she swam up and down the pool in Carluke without a care in the world, smiling at every turn. After drying off and changing it was time for the tube to be put into action: anyone with experience of this will detail how difficult it would be for someone like Caitlyn to put up with every single day.

Watching Caitlyn swim, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was nothing wrong with her. And that’s part of the problem with Crohn’s – to many people the illness is invisible, and no one is completely sure of the causes (and, there is no definitive cure).

Caitlyn’s mum, Lyndsay, highlighted this. At first, before Caitlyn had the feeding tube put in, many people were sceptical of a young teenager who, on the surface, seemed as though she just couldn’t be bothered. “Before she was diagnosed she was getting tired so quick and people didn’t understand why, they just thought it was a teenage girl making excuses.

“In a way, once the tube went in, people were able to identify that she wasn’t just making up and she was actually struggling. But even at that she still did so well, every time she stepped into the pool was an achievement in itself.”

Lyndsay added that from the moment Caitlyn was diagnosed, her club were extremely supportive. “The coaches at Lanark were great and have really helped. They were accommodating and understanding and even though things haven’t always been easy it was good to see her put a brave face on and compete at club level.”

And during the eight weeks the tube was part of Caitlyn’s daily life, putting on a brave face was far from easy. “I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything, I was only allowed the drink from the tube and it really does stink!” (She wasn’t lying!)

There was one outside influence in terms of taste Caitlyn was allowed: Sprite. And that was it. Lyndsay said: “So while her friends were eating Chinese takeaways and having lots of crisps and chocolate, Caitlyn had her feed and the Sprite and that was it.

“So me and her dad tried our best to do the same, I went as far as I could to make things easier for you because it was so hard seeing her suffer. But she kept smiling and that’s been the main thing throughout all of this.”

Caitlyn is continuing to swim now that the tube has been removed, even though it is causing a few issues. Lyndsay said: “Caitlyn's been in and out of hospital and is due to go back in again soon but generally doing ok although she struggles with her energy levels more than ever.

“When the tube was in she got a regular amount of everything she needed and it's way more difficult trying to find the balance when eating. She'll find her own routine, it just takes time.”

After speaking to Caitlyn and mum Lyndsay, we are confident that they will get through it. Caitlyn is an inspiring young girl and her determination and doggedness to keep swimming despite her ailments and lack of energy is an inspiration to all.

And on top of that she wants to help others. Her mum said: “Caitlyn is eager to keep going with keeping people aware of Crohn’s and its difficulties.”

Most recently, Lyndsay told us how Caitlyn had again outdone herself at a recent meet, despite not feeling 100 percent.

“Caitlyn is waiting to go back into hospital for more tests and isn't yet feeling great or fit. She's been suffering a bit over the past few days but as marched on regardless! She swam at Haddington Total Swimmer last week and made the 13/14 Girls final. This was a huge achievement for Caitlyn as she struggles to maintain her stamina and definitely struggled in the final but she made it none the less and we are so proud of her."

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When asked to sum up what she’s learned throughout her ordeal, and what she would say to other people who like swimming but fall ill, Caitlyn offered this quote: “Just keep doing it and try your best, don’t let people tell you that you can’t do something.”