Former Miss Scotland finalist on the battle with ulcerative colitis that changed her life

The illness changed Paula's life
The illness changed Paula's life

A FORMER model and Miss Scotland finalist claims her looks have been ravaged by a debilitating medical condition.

Paula O’Neill was one of Scotland’s most beautiful women until her stunning looks were dealt a blow by a debilitating disease which affects around 146,000 people in the UK.

She has developed ulcerative colitis, a condition which has no cure.

She was prescribed steroids to help, but they have a host of side-effects, including giving her a “moon face” appearance.

Paula says side-effects are the least of her worries, as she just wants to be well again.

With regards her changed appearance, the Dundee 25-year-old says: “People who know me didn’t know what to think. I’m sure some of them thought, ‘Paula’s really let herself go!’

“One minute I’m far too thin and the next I’m a big girl, but it’s the medication that caused it and, believe me, it’s a price well worth paying.”

Model Paula O'Neill has suffered from a mystery illness. The medicine she needs has made her increase weight
Paula

Paula had enjoyed a glamorous career as a model, taking part in exciting assignments and swimwear photo-shoots.

Her striking looks and slim frame made her a Miss Scotland candidate.

Five years ago she took her place in the beauty pageant’s glittering finale in Glasgow and things couldn’t have looked better.

The former Emirates cabin crew worker had just landed a place to train as a nurse in Dundee when the disease hit.

Paula was in severe pain off and on for two years, with stomach cramps, vomiting, cold sweats, and weight loss.

“At one point I lost a stone in just four weeks,” she said.

 

“I was so ill my weight plummeted from 8st 9lb to 7st 9lb.

“I couldn’t eat. The most I could manage sometimes was an ice pole or some jelly.

“I was going to the toilet 30 to 40 times a day and the stomach pains were unbearable. I was so frail and ill.

“This had been going on for two years. No one knew what was wrong with me.”

She added: “I was always told it was irritable bowel syndrome and I shouldn’t eat spicy food or have fizzy drinks.

“I was so ill.

“I went to my GP again who got me an appointment at Ninewells Hospital for a colonoscopy, – where they put a camera inside you to see what’s happening.

“I was in hospital for nine days and was given steroids by IV.

But these weren’t working so I was put on a drug called Infliximab and, within a day, we knew this was working for me.

“Instead of going to the toilet 20 times a day – I was going five times. It was great.”

Model Paula O'Neill has suffered from a mystery illness. The medicine she needs has made her increase weight
Model Paula O’Neill has suffered from a mystery illness. The medicine she needs has made her increase weight

But she had to continue the steroids and gradually reduce the dose from 40mg to 5mg, and that’s what changed her appearance.

Paula said: “They have side effects such as ‘moon face’, ‘camel back’ and ‘apple belly’ but that’s the least of my worries. I just wanted to be well again.

“My face was all bloated and I do have a hump of retained fluid between my shoulder blades.

“Everything puffs up but that will go when I stop the steroids.

“I feel ulcerative colitis –inflammatory bowel disease – is such a taboo subject. It’s like an invisible illness and some people just think you’re lazy or being over-dramatic.”

For someone who used to work in an industry dominated by looks, it’s no doubt been difficult.

But, thankfully, Paula says people have been kind.

“I was never trolled or bullied about my changing looks, but I know people were curious,” she said.

“I heard comments through the grapevine, but I also heard that people I don’t really know we’re messaging people I do know, asking what was wrong with me.”

Model Paula O'Neill has suffered from a mystery illness. The medicine she needs has made her increase weight (Andrew Cawley/Sunday Post)
Paula O’Neill  (Andrew Cawley/Sunday Post)

Fortunately Paula knows the benefits of good make-up and a visit to the hairdresser.

“When I’ve got my hair done and my make-up on I look fine,” she added.

“I don’t look as though I have a chronic lifelong illness where day-to-day tasks, journeys or outings take a lot of preparation.”

There is no known cause, and no known cure, but with treatment it can be kept under control.

UC is one of the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease, the other is Crohn’s disease.

Paula says it can easily “take over a sufferer’s life”.

“They don’t know what causes it and although it can be treated with medication, finding something that works for you can be a bit hit-or-miss.

“Hopefully I’m now much better and should be able to control this with an IV drip every eight weeks at hospital for at least a year.

“It seems to have taken over my life. I’ve been off work now for 14 weeks and I’ve been in and out of hospital.

“After my weight went down to 7st 9lb, I was put on steroids and it shot up to 9st 9lb.”

Model Paula O'Neill has suffered from a mystery illness. The medicine she needs has made her increase weight (Andrew Cawley/Sunday Post)
Paula modelling

Throughout her fight, Paula has felt indebted to the NHS.

“The drugs I’ve been given cost thousands and thousands of pounds in other countries,” she added.

“And the care and attention I’ve had from the medical staff at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee has been fantastic.

“I’m now working in healthcare at Ninewells and the first time I was admitted was into my own ward.

“It should have felt strange knowing everyone, but I was just so grateful to be in hospital.”

With her symptoms now coming under control, fun-loving Paula says she’s greatly looking forward to her first summer sun holiday in ages.

“Next week, I’m going off to Ibiza on holiday and for the first time in my life I’m having to think about wearing a swimsuit,” she said.

“I’ve never given that a second thought before as I’ve always been a slim girl, a size six or maybe an eight.

“I just want to get better and live my life as normal and, thankfully, that might happen now.”

There is no cure for colitis

Ulcerative colitis (UC) causes inflammation and ulcers in the inner lining of the large intestine, where tiny ulcers develop which may bleed and produce pus.

There is no known cause, and no known cure, but with treatment, it can be kept under control.

UC is one of the two main forms of inflammatory bowel disease, the other is Crohn’s disease.

UC is a chronic condition which means it’s ongoing and lifelong.

Symptoms include painful stomach cramps, diarrhoea, tiredness and fatigue, feeling feverish or unwell, loss of appetite and weight loss.

Around 146,000 people in the UK – one in 420 – have this. It can start at any age but most commonly appears for the first time between the ages of 15 to 25. It affects men and women equally.

It is often compared to Crohn’s disease but they are completely different.

Crohn’s can affect any part of the digestive tract. UC only affects the colon and rectum.

For most sufferers the most important part of organising a day out, is to know where the nearest toilets are.

For further info, go to crohnsandcolitis.org.uk

 

Swimmer’s tough battle

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

OLYMPIC silver medallist Siobhan-Marie O’Connor has spoken about her battle with the disease.

The 20-year-old was overcome with emotion after breaking the British record in the 200m individual medley in Rio last week.

But it’s been a tough fight for the Somerset swimmer, whose ulcerative colitis went undiagnosed before London 2012.

She said: “Every sportsperson has something that they have to manage, whether it’s an ongoing injury or something else, so this is just my thing that I have to deal with.

“It’s absolutely not ideal and I went through a pretty rough time of it before I got it diagnosed in 2012.

“I look back and don’t know how I swam when I was so ill.

“I see pictures of myself and I’m 10 kilos lighter than I am now and was so tired all the time.”

The silver winner was thrilled with her Brazilian triumph.

“I was over the moon because I didn’t think I had that time in me,” she added.


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