Great Comebacks

Live Your Life, With Passion…

After surgery, or just living day to day with an illness, it may seem impossible to fulfill your dreams. How can I travel? How can I play sports? How can I raise a family? So many questions, and lots of hurdles to overcome. 

For people living with the challenges of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer and other diseases that can lead to ostomy surgery, the words that matter most are often those from others who have been there.  For nearly three decades, the Great Comebacks® Program has shared personal stories of success to inspire others to reclaim their lives and pursue their dreams. 

Tony Bell, Bull Rider

Tony was born with a defect in his colon and had ostomy surgery immediately after birth. The surgery was later reversed but at age 9 he received a permanent colostomy. Nevertheless, Tony embraced a bright future mounting his first bull at age 10, and joined the pro rodeo circuit to compete professionally. Today Tony is working towards his special education teaching degree and works on the family farm when he’s not skydiving or catfishing!     

Crohn’s Disease Patient: Yvonne Austin

When successful mortgage banker and nationally-ranked competitive water skier Yvonne Austin was told by her doctor that she would need ostomy surgery due to her Crohn’s disease, she simply went to another doctor. Although Austin, 45, had been struggling with painful flare-ups since she first experienced the symptoms of Crohn’s at age 18, she was reluctant to undergo surgery. She had already visited the Bahamas, Mexico and Australia and was afraid that surgery would keep her from seeing more of the world. 

Austin was taking time to visit numerous colorectal surgery centers looking for a different answer when she came to the Cleveland Clinic and met Victor W. Fazio, MD.

“I immediately developed a connection with Dr. Fazio because it was easy to see that he was passionate about his work and cared for his patients,” said Austin. “He kept promising me that life would be better after surgery.”

Austin underwent a temporary ileostomy in 2002 to repair the fistula. “This is a very unusual procedure to attempt in Crohn’s disease patients because there are low expectations that it will cure the disease and the longer you have Crohn’s the lower your chances are for success,” said Dr. Fazio. “After I spoke with Yvonne about the physical and mental challenges of a temporary ileostomy she was more than willing to try the procedure.”

Unfortunately, Yvonne’s Crohn’s disease continued to flare-up after the temporary ileostomy and she opted in 2004 to undergo permanent surgery. “Yvonne was an inspiration to many of us at the Cleveland Clinic because she was very upbeat and never got angry about her surgery. She decided to make the best of her condition and even went water skiing soon after the procedure,” said Dr. Fazio.

Since her surgery, Austin has been determined to help other individuals suffering from Crohn’s disease and fundraises for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. She has also provided support to many people living with an intestinal disease or ostomy as a volunteer at a local children’s hospital.  

In recognition of her determination to lead an active life after surgery and the inspiration that she has provided to other patients to do the same, Austin received the 2010 Great Comebacks® Award for the Central Region.  The award has inspired Austin to be more active and outspoken about her ileostomy surgery, which she kept hidden even from her co-workers for several years.  

To recognize the compassionate care she received after surgery, Austin recently spoke at a special program that celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Cleveland Clinic’s R. B. Turnbull Jr. School of Wound, Ostomy, Continence (WOC) Nursing.

“When Dr. Fazio got up to speak at the program, I was so grateful when he said, ‘the recognition I’ve gotten isn’t about me, it is about patients like Yvonne Austin whom we try to give the best quality care to every day.’ All of the doctors and nurses at Cleveland Clinic were very understanding and helpful,” said Austin.

Change Perceptions...

Great Comebacks® also aims to raise awareness of these diseases and about life with an ostomy. People are often afraid of things they don’t really understand. By educating patients, their families and friends as well as the general public we can remove the stigma associated with these diseases and having an ostomy.