Emiratis battling bowel conditions offer hope as UAE launches society to boost patient care

A pair of young Emiratis have overcome health challenges to pursue their goals

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An Emirati entrepreneur whose battle with a serious bowel condition went undiagnosed for more than a decade hopes to offer inspiration to others after bouncing back to pursue international success.

Sarah Sajwani, 27, spent countless hours in hospital receiving treatment since the age of 12, with doctors unable to point out the source of her constant pain.

It was only at 25, when she had Crohn's disease diagnosed, that she was able to finally dispel the doubts, which had grown over a condition still misunderstood by many.

Crohn's is a form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Now the launch of a new IBD Society in the UAE aims to provide a vital network of support for people like her.

I am very happy. I haven't let the disease stop me

"I just hope that our stories give people, hope. The worst thing is to feel alone while going through this," said Ms Sajwani.

“No one ever believed me when I said I was in pain." When she was young, people thought Ms Sajwani was giving excuses to skip school.

"I have a high threshold for pain so when I say I am in pain, it means I really am in pain," she said.

"It is worse when the healthcare professionals and nurses doubt you.”

Ms Sajwani underwent more than 20 colonoscopies and tried a variety of medications over the years to combat symptoms ranging from severe abdominal pain and vomiting to extreme fatigue.

She currently takes biologic drugs to treat her condition and requires a hospital stay whenever there is a "flare-up", which she says is typically every few months.

“When I was first told that I had a chronic illness, I was in shock. My mind literally froze but many, many good things have happened to me since then," she said.

Despite the health challenges she has faced, Ms Sajwani has set up a luxury beauty app that is already available in the UAE.

She aims to expand globally in the coming months.

"My business, Shades App started from the hospital bed and now I am servicing the royal family, VIPs and celebrities," she said.

"Stay strong, recognise the patterns in your life and the message behind them."

Sportsman won't let disease defeat him

Mohammad Hassan Rahma can now pursue his sporting dreams after successful surgery. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi
Mohammad Hassan Rahma can now pursue his sporting dreams after successful surgery. Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi

Fellow Emirati Mohammad Hassan Rahma, 34, has long dreamt of sporting success – whether as a goalkeeper guiding his team to glory or now as an accomplished surfer taking part in competitions around the world.

A 15-year fight with ulcerative colitis, a serious bowel condition, would have led many to seek another path.

But while it has thrown up many obstacles, he is riding the crest of a wave.

One of the greatest joys for him, however, is taking a walk in the park with a cup of coffee in his hands.

This simple pleasure for Mr Rahma was brought about by what he views as a blessing, having his colon removed last year.

Doctors at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi carried out the procedure after a colonoscopy revealed precancerous cells in his colon.

The avid sportsman passes solid waste through a stoma in his abdomen that connects to a waterproof pouch called an ostomy bag.

He would previously have to rush to the toilet up to 20 times a day.

“I love it. I now don’t go to the bathroom at all and I am very happy. I went to a restaurant with friends for the first time," he said.

"I could walk in the park with a cup of coffee in my hands and didn’t need to rush to the bathroom. I could never finish a full cup of coffee.

"I hiked and camped also for the first time and I ran a full marathon. I am very happy with the life I am living.”

At 18, he was a goalkeeper pinning his hopes on representing the UAE national side.

“I found myself having to leave the game to go to the bathroom every twenty minutes,” he said.

He took up rugby but suffered a serious injury which led him to take up surfing.

“You have to adapt,” he said.

Mr Rahma also has a day job at Abu Dhabi Ports.

“I am very happy,” he said. “I haven’t let the disease stop me.”

UAE launches new society to boost patient care

The UAE launched the IBD Society this month.

IBD is a broader term used to describe conditions that cause inflammation of the digestive system, with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis being the two most common forms.

While it is not known exactly how many people in the UAE suffer from IBD, it is thought to be between 2 to 4 per cent of the population, with the condition most commonly presenting between adolescence and the age of 30.

The society founded by Dr Maryam Al Khatry, resident of the Emirates Gastroenterology and Hepatology Society, will offer programmes aimed at improving the quality of life for patients and support research into the conditions.

For more information, visit the society's website