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UVic student using her diagnosis to have gutsy talks on inflammatory bowel diseases

Access to family doctors key as number of Canadians with gastrointestinal illnesses grow
Camille Zimmer, a PhD student at the University of Victoria, is telling her story of ulcerative colitis to raise awareness of inflammatory bowel diseases. (Courtesy of Camille Zimmer)

Halfway up a climbing wall, Camille Zimmer got light-headed and had to have her friend help her back down.

She recalls being short of breath at that moment and how much had changed from just months before when her extremely active self was hiking and always outdoors. Zimmer is a civil engineering PhD student at the University of Victoria, where she also runs an outreach program that aims to get high school and other young girls to pursue engineering.

Eventually though, she had to stop doing many of the activities she loved.

“It was just exhaustion, I was just very tired all the time.”

After having gut pains, bloody stools and being super anemic for about five months, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in January 2021.

“It was overwhelming and confusing because at the time I didn’t know that’s what I had,” Zimmer said. “I couldn’t have my daily life, I couldn’t go very far from the bathroom at any point.”

But that’s all changed now. After being diagnosed and responding well to medication, Zimmer has been able to get back to her normal life – thanks to a couple of hefty-sized pills she takes every day. She recently got a $5,000 scholarship from Crohn’s and Colitis Canada and AbbVie Canada and now is looking to raise awareness about inflammatory bowel diseases.

Zimmer’s studies are focused on providing clean drinking water – a topic that’s commonly linked to fecal contamination – so she’s well-versed on the topic.

“I’m very comfortable talking about poop so I might as well say it for people who may not be as comfortable,” she said. “I feel like I owe it to the community to talk about it.”

It was a shock for Zimmer that she’d have to deal with the condition for the rest of her life, but it did give her some relief finally knowing what was wrong. What’s worrying is she had access to a family doctor through the university to guide her through the months-long process, so Zimmer is concerned for those who don’t have that luxury.

After her symptoms began in the summer of 2020, the journey included lots of appointments with her doctor in the months that followed to rule out other illnesses.

“You need tests and to follow up and to see your results, and all of that happens through your family doctor.”

She was then referred to a gastroenterologist and was diagnosed shortly after having a colonoscopy in early January. Zimmer said modern medicine can be an amazing thing as once she did have a diagnosis and medication, her symptoms eased within the month.

Crohn’s and Colitis Canada says around 300,000 people in the country live with inflammatory bowel disease, and that’s expected to rise to 400,000 by 2030.

Zimmer stressed how key early intervention and primary health care are in combating gastrointestinal illnesses. She was still extremely tired for a long time and only recently had her red blood cell levels finally return to normal.

“My journey towards being diagnosed would’ve been a lot harder had I not had access to a family doctor.”

READ: Urgent and primary care centre opens in Victoria’s Gorge neighbourhood Follow us on Instagram. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Jake Romphf

About the Author: Jake Romphf

In early 2021, I made the move from the Great Lakes to Greater Victoria with the aim of experiencing more of the country I report on.
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