‘Have hope’: North Melbourne footballer Bella Eddey on managing her Crohn’s disease

If someone had have told North Melbourne AFLW forward Bella Eddey that she would play professional sport when she was growing up, she wouldn’t have believed you: she was so sick she could hardly get out of bed. But now Bella tells a story of her determination to not let her Crohn’s get in the way.  

At 8 years of age, Bella’s parents first noticed a difference in her as she went from being a very sporty child, to a child with half the energy “I was super skinny and super small.” Bella and her family didn’t know what was wrong and were struggling to deal with “all those fun IBD things to do with your stomach and the toilet.” Following blood tests, visits to the doctor and later a colonoscopy, her symptoms were diagnosed as Crohn’s disease – a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

“At the time I was very young, and I didn’t know what it was. The doctors were great, they made sure I understood everything. I was put on medication straight away once I was officially diagnosed. I had to try a few different medications including a liquid diet and had several bad reactions, getting to remission took five or six years and a lot of different medications and different diets. There were some pretty rough times, I had to go to the hospital regularly. I’ve grown from those tough moments and it’s made me stronger.” 

With a supportive and loving family in her corner, Bella was fortunate to have her brother for immediate support to share the hospital visits. Both Bella’s brothers were diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, one when Bella was diagnosed and the other one was only diagnosed last year in his 20s. 

Drafted at the end of 2020 with North Melbourne’s pick No.13, Bella has established herself in a formidable Kangaroos outfit, with the upcoming 2023 AFLW season to kick off on the first weekend of September. The Club’s supportive and envied family culture shines through as Bella speaks about the environment at Arden Street for her and her teammate Mia King – who has ulcerative colitis. 

“It’s been cool to have someone in the team with IBD, we can relate to each other and what we’re going through… that support and friendship. We have a joke about curry and how it’s going to hit us.” 

“The team is really good at checking in and asking how we’re going. I’m in remission now but I still go to hospital every six weeks for infusions to stay fit and well. It’s important that the people around you know and everyone at the club has been really supportive and interested to learn more.” 

With the confidence and ability to say stop and ask for help when she needs to, and the mentality to soldier on, Bella knows that at North Melbourne she can speak up if she doesn’t feel up to it and say, “you know look, I’m having a day” and come out of a drill at training. 

While Bella is fine talking about it now, she shares that before the North Melbourne podcast she “hadn’t been asked about it before in a public setting. While it’s not something I shout about, if people don’t ask questions, people don’t realise.” 

Today Bella feels her Crohn’s is well managed having been diagnosed at a young age and now living with the intensity of a professional sporting career. 

“As I have gotten older I’m now confident managing it myself, doctors are across it and we have a great support network. Our doctors don’t just look after our physical health, they also always ask about our mental health, our quality of life, they make sure I’m well and physically and mentally fit.” 

“Sometimes I forget I even have Crohn’s disease. It’s been well managed. Playing football at the highest level is really intense and definitely has its challenges but I’ve got a great support network.”  

Bella’s advice to anyone newly diagnosed with IBD is to have hope. 

“There are rough times, but it doesn’t have to be a disadvantage, yes it can be a burden and things seem to be unfair, I definitely have those thoughts. Embrace the fact you do have it and then focus on how to make the best out of this situation – you can still go on to be a footy player, rugby player or whatever you want to do. The most important thing is to have a good support network behind you and then IBD doesn’t have to be a disadvantage at all.” 

Listen to the podcast: https://www.nmfc.com.au/news/1338981/i-was-furious-how-chronic-illness-made-bella-eddey-stronger 

Photos: Supplied by North Melbourne Football Club