A 21-year old woman from Donaghadee is hoping that a sponsored walk taking place at the end of the month will help raise £1,000 for the National Association for Crohn's and Colitis (NACC).
Courtney Atkinson, a student from Beechfield Drive, was diagnosed with Crohn's – an inflammatory bowel disease – three years ago.
Since her diagnosis, she has undergone a major operation to have 37 cms of her bowel removed and further surgery on a large scar on her stomach.
Courtney has organised a sponsored walk from Donaghadee to Groomsport, which will place on Saturday, September 28. Around 50 of her family and friends will also be walking the four-mile route in aid of NACC.
She said the organisation offered her a life-line when she was diagnosed in August 2010 and hopes the event will help raise both awareness of the disease and also funds for NACC.
Courtney said: "I was only 18 when I was diagnosed.
"I'd never even heard of Crohn's and when I was told I had it I was sad, scared – a whole range of emotions.
"I started feeling really unwell in June 2010 and I was back and forward to the hospital for tests, scans and biopsies.
"I got in touch with NACC and they were fantastic. They offered me so much help and support and put me in touch with other people my age who were going through what I was experiencing."
Courtney admitted that the past three years had been tough – "physically, emotionally and socially".
"At the start, I was taking 38 tablets a day, then I had to have 37 cms of my bowel removed in October 2010, which left me with a horrible scar on my stomach," she said. "I was so embarrassed by it – you could see it through my clothes and it made me really self-conscious. I went to Dublin in March this year to have reconstructive surgery on the scar and I'm now down to nine tablets a day, plus two special drinks.
"I have good days and bad days. I do get very depressed sometimes, but then I realise how lucky I am to have the support of my boyfriend Connor, my wonderful family and my great bunch of friends. I was due to go to university the year I was diagnosed, but my consultant advised me against it due to the medication I was on and the pain I was in. I've put those plans on hold for a while, but I've learned to manage Crohn's as best I can.
"As well as raising money, I'm also hoping the sponsored walk at the end of the month will help raise awareness about Crohn's. I've found there's a bit of a stigma about the disease and it's almost like a silent illness, as no-one can see what's going on."
Courtney's walk starts at Donaghadee Lighthouse at 10am on Saturday, September 28. She has also organised a charity evening at the Yachtsman Bar in Donaghadee at 8pm that evening.
To make a donation go to www.justgiving.com/Courtney-Atkinson