Traffic officer joins twitter to raise awareness of Ulcerative Colitis
One of our traffic officers has bravely spoken out today (15 October) following his diagnosis with Ulcerative Colitis, how this has affected his role and how he has been supported by West Midlands Police.
Mark Woodcock, a 33-year-old from Leicester, has been with West Midlands Police for 14 years, firstly volunteering as a special and now working for our Central Motorway Policing Group.
He was only 28 when he was diagnosed and he has now joined Twitter to raise awareness for the condition as well as offering support to other people in a similar situation.
Why did you join the police?
I joined in 2008 after being both a special constable and a PCSO for two years. I knew policing was the career I wanted and I’ve loved every minute of it. I started off in response and in 2018 was lucky enough to join CMPG / Traffic.
When did you start to feel unwell?
In 2015 I had just got married and didn’t feel well. After several trips to the doctor and hospital I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. At the time I was only 28 and thought ‘surely I’m too young for things like this?’ but I was completely wrong.
What is Ulcerative Colitis?
It’s a form of Inflammatory Bowel Disease which is an autoimmune condition where the body’s immune system goes wrong and begins to attack itself.
The immune system mistakes harmless bacteria inside the colon for a threat and attacks the tissues of the colon, causing it to become inflamed.
I had never heard of the condition myself and was surprised to learn that one in every 420 people live with the disease and surprisingly it’s commonly diagnosed in people from 15 to 25 years old.
How have you been?
For the first two years it had little effect on my life, but in 2017 I experienced my first ‘flare up’ and was off work for three months. On my worst days I would make 15 trips to the toilet with bloody diarrhoea, constant fatigue, mouth ulcers and swollen joints. The doctors placed me on immunosuppressant medication which worked great and I returned to my job.
In 2018 when I joined CMPG, my condition was manageable and I had no symptoms. I was on daily medication and had to attend the hospital every eight weeks for infusions called Vedolizumab. This was a joint therapy treatment with another immunosuppressant called Azathioprine which would last four hours each time.
In 2019 whilst on my advanced car course I found out I was in remission, so I was taken off the immunosuppressant medication. What a good month that was!
At the beginning of this year I started to become unwell again and was admitted to hospital. I was placed on an intense course of steroids and back on the immunosuppressant medication. Normally I would return to work but this year has been very different due to Coronavirus.
How did it affect you?
I was in hospital for a week and it was very surreal. I had no visitors and could only watch the events unfold on TV. I was also on a ward with patients who were ill with CoVID.
I remember when I was discharged my friend picked me up from hospital and the roads were just empty. As a traffic officer, that is something you never see!
Due to the immunosuppressant medication, I was placed on the NHS shielding list and if I’m honest I hated it. I know it’s designed to protect me; however I felt like a prisoner in my own home. I’m lucky that I have a wife and two children at home who supported and kept me busy so the time quickly passed.
After 10 weeks I was taken off the shielding list. I was able to finally leave the house, go for a walk and get back to work, driving as a traffic cop. I was so glad to be back at work and enjoyed getting back to some sort of normality.
Have you been supported at work?
West Midlands Police, and in particular my line managers, have been amazing and have taken the time to learn about my condition. They have supported me with time off for hospital appointments and any adjustments I have needed that have enabled me to continue my role as a traffic cop.
What’s your latest prognosis?
On 1 August, I was admitted back into hospital and was placed on another course of steroids but they didn’t have any effect. I knew in myself things were getting worse and I had started to lose a lot of weight. Eventually I was given two choices, try one last medication however I was given a 20% chance of it working or bite the bullet and have my colon removed. I’m not a betting man but I know 20% is not good odds plus it wasn’t a permanent fix so I’d just be delaying the inevitable.
Due to the current situation, I was in hospital on my own and had to make this life-changing decision on Facetime with my wife. We decided the best course of action would be the removal of the colon known as an Ileostomy and to be fitted with a stoma. I had the operation on 19 August and after two days I started to feel better. All the symptoms had gone, and I felt amazing. I spent three weeks in hospital and it was extremely difficult not being able to see my family but worth every second as I am now getting my life back.
What does the future hold and will you be able to continue in your job?
I’m now at home recovering from the operation and I will have to return to hospital at some point for a further operation. I’ve been in touch with other police officers from different forces who have stomas such as @ColitisCop who has shared his experience returning back to the front line. The help and advice I have gained has really inspired me and accelerated my recovery.
The force fully support me returning to my role as soon as I can. The whole experience this year has been made a hundred times easier due to the support from colleagues and supervisors at CMPG. I have joined Twitter to do the same, to help others who may be experiencing similar health problems. I hope to document my return to work, my next operation and recovery and how I find day to day living with a stoma as a police officer including the challenges it brings.
Finally, I would like to thank Dr Waraich and his team at Walsall Manor Hospital. I am extremely grateful for everything they have done for me… They were truly amazing considering what a tough year they’ve all had.
Follow PC Woodcock on Twitter @StomaCopWMP