Dean Scott Richardson, 38 from Brighton, shares what his life has been life since he was left with a stoma after a botched surgery in 2019. (Supplied/Dean Scott Richardson)

A gay man from Brighton says he felt like he was “labelled as the gay guy with a bag” while trying to get back on his feet and find love after a horrific operation that left him with a stoma.

Dean Scott Richardson, 38, told PinkNews that he has lived with Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), for most of his life after being diagnosed in 1996. He even had to have part of his large intestine removed during surgery in 2000.

But he explained that he suffered from a horrific set of circumstances that left him disabled after a botched surgery in 2019. He told PinkNews that he had been working in China frequently and decided to undergo a “small, routine operation” before he returned to the country from his home in the UK. Richardson explained the planned surgery, which should have taken “5-10 minutes”, was to remove a tiny bit of scar tissue left behind by his previous operation.

He went under the knife in December 2019, and his small surgery took a turn for the worst when the surgeon unknowingly perforated his bowels. Richardson said he woke up after the 12-hour operation and knew something was wrong.

“I kept saying to the doctors and the staff that I didn’t feel well, and there was something wrong,” Richardson said. “Nobody would listen to me for 10 days, and my stomach was getting bigger. I’ve known my body for a long time, but none of them would listen to me.”

But then, Richardson was rushed in for a life-saving surgery, which he said he had a “20 per cent chance of survival”. In the end, he woke up with a double jejunostomy – which is a stoma – and a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC), a narrow tube that is put into a vein that allows medicines and antibiotics to be given directly into the bloodstream. Richardson was left with a bag attached to his abdomen to collect waste diverted by the stoma.

He told PinkNews that he woke up to “hell” after his surgery as he didn’t even know he would get a stoma or PICC line, which he said was “never on the cards” for him.

“Most people in the IBD community will have a choice to get a bag or have time to come to terms with it,” Richardson said. “It was never on the cards to me because I was going for a very small, routine operation, and then I just woke up to what I can only describe as being the last year of hell.”

After his surgery and eventually being transferred from Brighton to a specialist hospital in Oxford, Richardson said he felt “isolated” and “invisible”. He said he couldn’t find anyone in the LGBT+ community who had similar experiences online who were being “open and honest about their health conditions”.

So he decided to set up an Instagram page, @chrons_come_back_kid, to chart his recovery and health journey. He told PinkNews that he’s met “so many beautiful” people through his social media escapades, but he has received backlash and vitriol from the gay community because he is honest about his condition.

“I was very down and depressed because I lost my job and my home while I was in the hospital, and then I suddenly had this bag of s**t sticking on my stomach,” Richardson said. “I just felt very lost and alone.”

He eventually decided to download dating apps, like Grindr, to connect to others while he was in the hospital. But Richardson said he would be “ghosted” or blocked the moment he would mention his stoma. He said: “People would make some excuses or stop talking to me, and that affected me mentally because I’m the same guy.

“All I could think in my head was: If I was to have sex, I will be the best bottom in town because it doesn’t get used.

“So I couldn’t work out why, all of the sudden, I was being ostracised and treated like this.”

Then, he connected with a woman had the same surgeries as Richardson. She invited him to participate in a couple of photoshoots, and he decided to put the images onto his dating profiles so he wouldn’t have to ‘drop the bomb” that he was unwell.

But he said he was immediately met with vitriol with people asking him why he chose to put “pictures like that” on the apps. Richardson said he felt like he “just got labelled as the gay guy with a bag” after he posted the pictures.

“Nobody took me seriously or wanted to date me the minute I put the pictures of my bag online,’ he explained. “I was going through such a difficult time losing my job, losing my home, my identity, and the one community that would be there for me just turned its back.”

Richardson told PinkNews that he was able to have his stoma reversed in July 2020, but his life has been forever changed by the experience. He still lives with the scars and the life-altering health consequences of the operations.

But he said he ultimately doesn’t regret being so open about his stoma and health journey. He said he has made a group of close friends through his Instagram account, and he’s continued to dip his toes into the dating pool.

“I would love to meet a nice guy and plan my future, but it’s just so difficult,” Richardson said.

If you need support or have questions about living with a stoma, you can find more information through Crohn’s & Colitis UK’s guide or by calling their helpline number: 0300 222 5700.

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