I have mentioned before that my case of Crohn’s is a mild one. Even though it doesn’t seem so to me late at night with my head over a toilet or when writhing on the floor of an airport waiting area, jaundiced and almost hoping for death to arrive (then realizing the awful truth – that it wasn’t coming. Yes, the pain can be that bad) others have had it much, much worse.
Over the years I have known and met others with Crohn’s who have been through much worse than I have and who have also accomplished much despite the illness. One of these people is a young man from Ireland (we met on bodybuilding.com – never in person) whose name is Peter K. Vaughan. Since I have first been in contact with Peter about five years ago his courage and perseverance has inspired me. His Crohn’s is one of the worst cases I’ve heard of and it has effected his life in ways that I will never fully understand. His story, however, is also one of the most inspiring.
Like many of us, Peter had an early interest in bodybuilding and he first picked up weights when he found a set of dumbbells under the stairs in his uncle’s house. He immediately became hooked. However, life had other ideas and before he could start to realize his bodybuilding potential Peter was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 1998 at the age of 12.
Within just a couple years Crohn’s had attacked most of his digestive system, from mouth to anus, and he was in bad shape. His large intestine was removed, his small intestine was mostly removed and altered. His kidneys came close to failure and blood loss was rampant. Plus, the joints in his knees and fingers locked up. So badly that at one point his fingers would curl up and his fingernails cut his own hands. He says that he had so many procedures over the years that he lost track of his operations and medications.
Things were so bad that by age 13 he was having thoughts of suicide. But then he made a different decision. He was not going to let his life be defined by Crohn’s he was going to fight and persevere!
And fight he had to do because Crohn’s was going to go the distance with him. Over the years he has had (in no particular order): ulcers, adhesions, blockages, cysts, fistulas, abscesses, strictures, kinks, tears, tags, pouchitis, and stomas. In addition to the crippling pain that Crohn’s would afflict him with he also suffered through thousands of needle punctures, IV therapies, blood transfusions, collapsed veins, feeding and draining tubes, osteopenia, cracked ribs and even a collapsed lung post surgery! He spent so much time in bed and his muscles atrophied so much that he had to learn to walk and run again. I’m not sure that I’ve even covered all the things that Peter had to endure.
But, somehow, he managed to finish school, and at 17 he was healthy enough to begin growing again eventually reaching a just above Irish average male adult height of 5’10” in his early twenties (many children with Crohn’s are “stunted” during puberty and Peter is shorter than his brothers who are all over six feet tall, but he is a little taller than his father. By the way, the latest figures I found online indicate that the current average male in Ireland is 5’9″ – but men born in the eighties as Peter was are closer to 5’8″) and in 2007 at the age of 20, tired of being known as the “skinny, sick kid” he started to lift weights to improve not only his under 120 pound body but his confidence.
The weights worked. In about two years he had built himself up to a healthy, and healthy looking, 160 pounds. He was able to pursue normal activities again, even traveling abroad. The gym, diet, and disease were no longer the center of his life and he was doing well until in 2010 the unthinkable happened. Crohn’s once again returned into Peter’s life.
He lost all the gains he made in the past several years and his weight plummeted back below 130 pounds. But the worst effect was the one on his mind and his attitude. As he said, “it ate into my mind. It took everything I had to not let it take hold over me all these years later.” In early 2011 a new treatment was tried and he began to recover. He knew what he needed to do: he went back to the gym and refocused on his nutrition. He recovered reaching new gains in size and strength. But Crohn’s was never far away and by the end of 2011 he was once again fading and his weight plummeted down to a frightening 114 pounds. Back to the hospital….and the cycle continued. Crohn’s would knock Peter down for another 15 months and but Peter just got back up again!
Today Peter is healthy again and eating – a lot. You have to eat the calories to put on the mass. He says that he no longer eats for taste, that it’s all about giving his body what it needs to heal and grow.
He now weighs a healthy 166 pounds, his heaviest ever, his strength continues to improve and, as he says, his biceps are back! He has also finished his college studies and his passion for fitness has led him to become personal trainer, with several certifications, and he has his own training company, PKV Personal Training (more information at: https://www.facebook.com/pkvpersonaltraining).
His life has been difficult. His parents were twice told that he might not make it. He fears that more surgery is still in his future and just recently (January 2014) he was diagnosed as having Pineocytoma, a slow growing tumor of the pineal gland in the brain. It’s rate of growth is being monitored closely, of course, but he says “I’m fighting. I’ve seen enough around hospitals to know better. I’m still alive, and so long as I’m here I will do what I can to make the most of things. I’ve grown up fighting, you’d better believe I’m good at it!”
By now you may be wondering, where does a man who has gone through so much draw his inspiration? Well, remember when I told you about his thoughts of suicide at age 13? There’s more to that story. I’ll let Peter tell you in his own words:
“The suicide bit, that was an extremely difficult time, but there was one kid who in many ways, gave me everything I needed to never go there again and to this day I carry his picture. He was a child a lot younger than me at the time. I didn’t know what was wrong with him other than he was dying. He passed away in the bed next to mine one night, and his mother who had always been very nice to me, gave me his picture and asked me to remember him. From then on I never give out about what happens to me. I’m here, he’s not. What right do I have to be upset? He gives me strength to fight on day after day regardless how many times I fall down. He will never know how he has helped me shape my life into something better and I think of him and his mother regularly, even now 15 years on.”
Despite Crohn’s and new threats to his health I think that Peter’s future is bright and that he will achieve any goal he sets out to achieve. And what does Peter want people to learn from his life? Again, I think he says it best:
“I want to inspire others with life illnesses, who go through years of fighting and refusing to step back and admit defeat. I will never beat my illness, I have it for life, but I will not be beaten by my illness, I will live my life my way.”
And you know what? I think he will.
One thought on “Profile in Crohn’s Courage: Peter K. Vaughan”