I've had people shout at me when I use a blue badge ... they assume I'm faking; Dad-to-be's five types of Crohn's disease.
AN inspirational dad-to-be whose Facebook post about how people think he fakes his 'invisible disability' has revealed that he found love despite barely leaving his hospital bed - with a fellow patient.
Ste Walker suffers from all five types of Crohn's disease and has spent all but four weeks of the last 18 months in Huddersfield Royal Infirmary.
The former amateur rugby union player and roofer has undergone three life-saving operations in the last three years as he battles multiple heart, liver, bowel and kidney problems.
Despite all this, he suffers abuse for using a blue badge when parking or even using a disabled toilet - because he looks healthy with his clothes on.
However his Facebook post in which he showed his surgery scars and life-sustaining tubing has gone viral after it received more than 15,000 likes and 5,000 shares.
And now the 24-year-old finally has something to look forward to - he's expecting a baby girl with his partner Ann Rowlands, who he met when she was at hospital after getting glass stuck in her foot.
Ste said: "I've had people shout at me that I'm conning the system when my mum or my partner use a blue badge.
"They look at me and because I look pretty much like anyone else my age from the outside, they assume that I'm faking a disability.
"My girlfriend has been abused and confronted in the street. It's a pet hate of mine that people are so judgmental.
"I don't react, personally, but it does hurt. It gets to you. It's really not nice. Why should disability have a certain look or face? "They don't know that I haven't eaten a meal in two years, or that most of my bowels have been removed.
"Every day is agony for me. I can barely get out of bed and I've never experienced pain like it.
"I never expected the post to receive the attention it did but hopefully it can help educate people about invisible illnesses."
Ste, who described himself as a 'healthy, solid, 16-stone man' before his illness, first realised something was wrong when he suffered bowel pains which prompted him to vomit '20 to 30 times' during one bout in July 2012.
Then, after getting injured while playing for Halifax RUFC in November that year, he was diagnosed with Crohn's after a three-week stint in hospital.
Ste said: "When I was vomiting, being a bloke, I just didn't go to the doctor at first. My mum eventually made me go.
"The doctors said I had lost four stone. I hadn't really noticed it, but I think the people around me had.
"I think that's why the hit at rugby hurt so much. It's just gone completely downhill from there.
"I tend to just struggle along each day. Even getting out of bed in unbelievably hard, but I'm trying to keep my independence where I can.
"I keep reminding myself that no matter how bad it is, there's always someone worse off. And I'm really looking forward to being a dad. That motivates me and gets me through the days."
Ste met his girlfriend, Ann, in June 2014 when she was also admitted to the hospital - after standing on broken glass in her home.
Ann, 37, is now expecting the couple's first child - a girl - in February as despite his condition they did not let it destroy their intimacy.
Ste said: "I've barely got enough energy to stand up so it was a struggle, but we managed! We're both adults so we just dealt with it.
"It's pretty exciting. Any time I am able to get out of hospital, spending time with Ann and my family is all I want to do.
"I've got an amazing support network, including the staff at the hospital. They help me through every single day.
"I met Ann at the hospital vending machine. She was buying some chocolate and a bag of Quavers but I could see her hopping about because of her foot, so I went and got her a wheelchair.
"I started pushing her around but I whacked her foot and ran over her crisps. It wasn't a great start but we got chatting online and we've taken it from there.
"We had our first proper date at Costa and she spilled scalding hot coffee over me. I think that was revenge for hurting her foot.
"She's never known me any other way and she's absolutely brilliant."
Since January 2013, Ste has had a right hemicolectomy (most of his large bowel removed), pelvic sepsis which led to him having a stoma fitted to collect his faeces, and a gastrojejunostomy, which created a loop to drain the contents of his stomach.
On his rare trips out of hospital, Ste returns to his home in Halifax, where he enjoys the company of his mum, Joanne, stepdad Lee Lockley, 23-year-old sister Krystle, and pet Staffordshire cross Izzy.
He regularly posts pictures of his stoma on social media support groups such as GETYOURBELLYOUT and Young Free and IBD (irritable bowel disease) - and hopes his viral letter will help raise awareness of other people suffering from similar conditions.
Ste said: "I also have something called a Hickman line, which comes out of my chest and rests in my heart. This is what is used to feed me on something called total parenteral nutrition (TPN) as I can't eat properly.
"There's a scar that runs from the centre of my chest to the top of my pubic bone, so it just goes to show that people who give me stick in the street don't know the full story.
"I don't really know what the future holds. Crohn's itself isn't terminal, but the risk from complications is pretty big.
"I'm on so many painkillers - including medicinal ketamine - but there's no cure. I'll keep on fighting."
Ste's scars after all but |four weeks of the last 18 months in HRI PICS: MERCURY
"I keep reminding myself that no matter how bad it is, there's always someone worse off " Ste Walker
Ste at the Royal Infirmary with nurses, Sister Ria Petrovich, |left, and Staff Nurse, Amy Emerson. Right: with girlfriend, Ann Rowlands. Below: Looking gaunt before his operations
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|Publication:||Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)|
|Date:||Oct 29, 2015|
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