Battling the unseen: living with Crohn’s

By Danny El Helou 

My name is Danny El Helou, and I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2002 when I was 13 and in year 8 of high school. Before this, I consulted several doctors and had numerous tests before being formally diagnosed by Dr Andrew Day of Randwick Children’s Hospital. My family and I had never heard of or known someone with Crohn’s disease. It was a bittersweet moment to finally understand what was wrong with me, but we never really comprehended the problem. 

Along with Crohn’s came many uncomfortable encounters. Whilst in high school I was off food for about three months and placed on Osmolite to isolate what may irritate my Crohn’s. I remember drinking Osmolite in class and all my friends asking me what I was drinking or sometimes having to drink it in the office whilst the other students played during recess/lunch. I also recall going to see my specialist and feeling “weird” or uncomfortable when Dr Day asked how frequently I went to the bathroom or how my stools were. 

In 2005, I had a lot of abdominal pain and when I would go to the toilet, I’d urinate blood and bubbles. We went to the Randwick Children’s Hospital where I was diagnosed with a fistula. I was in year 11 of high school and had to stay in the hospital for three months. I had to be off food to allow the fistula to heal and fed via TPN. I lost about 8 kilograms during this time. In late 2006, I had to transition from the Randwick Children’s Hospital to the adults hospital. It was a hard time for me, and I had to adjust mentally. It’s amazing how mentally strong we can be when we focus on overcoming adversaries.  
I’ve always wanted to join the New South Wales Police Force and become a police officer since I was a child. For this dream to become a reality, my doctor had to clear me medically, which he did. On May 8, 2009, I graduated from the NSW Police Force Academy. After almost 13 years of service, I resigned from the Police Force in November 2021 to take up a role as an investigator in the private sector. Being a police officer was physically and psychologically demanding, but it was a rewarding profession.

In the midst of this, my gallbladder had to be removed, but the most extensive operation I’ve ever had was a colon resection in November 2013. I remember experiencing this unimaginable pain that I’d never felt before, and my initial assumption was that I had a bowel obstruction. We made our way to the hospital, where I was scheduled to have surgery. It was a long recovery, but luckily everything went well. I encountered a couple of small issues following the procedure. One of them was that I began to feel anxious because I kept going to the bathroom, even though I never had an accident. Thankfully, after many sessions with a psychologist, I was in a much better place.

I never really told anyone that I had Crohn’s disease, but I’m more open about it now, and I let my co-workers know about it since I need to use the restroom regularly. I can go to the toilet anywhere between once and seven times each day. It is unpredictable. I have to stop and use the restroom at service stations or public parks on occasion. Everyone has been so nice and encouraging. I’m currently managing my Crohn’s symptoms by taking the following medication – Imuran, Questran Lite and Infliximab.  

My goal in sharing my experience is to encourage others to pursue their aspirations, whether it’s an overseas vacation or a dream profession. I married my then-fiancé in November 2004, and we now have three boys over ten years later. I used to play football (rugby league) when I was younger. Don’t allow Crohn’s disease to rule you, and don’t be ashamed of it either.