A car accident has left a young Sydney model and nurse not able to "eat or drink ever again".
Steph Kelly, 27, said it's been four years since she "ate a meal that fully absorbed" due to the "damage" caused to an important nerve which brought on two serious conditions: gastroparesis and intestinal failure.
"In 2018 while I was working as a nurse, I was involved in a car accident that damaged my vagus nerve (responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions) and left me unable to eat and drink," she said on TikTok where she educates people on her conditions.
"The gastroparesis means that anything that I eat goes into my stomach doesn’t leave and makes me very sick. And the Intestinal failure means that anything that does leave my stomach and goes into my intestines, causes blockages and doesn’t move and therefore doesn’t absorb."
Sydney woman able to survive with 'last resort' treatment
Ms Kelly said that the "only reason (she's) alive" is thanks to Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN) — a special formula fed through the bloodstream.
"It sounds crazy but I actually eat and drink through my heart," she said in her TikTok. "The central line (also known as a Hickman) is inserted underneath my skin and tunnelled up underneath my collarbone and then into a large vein that sits then directly into my heart."
Despite "being really against" it at the start, she told Yahoo News Australia that TPN has "pretty much given me my life back".
"I didn’t realise the TPN would nourish me! I have so much more energy, I can go out and do things, I'm not fatigued," she said. "I've gained 10 kg which is great because I'm at a healthy weight now."
"I'm able to get married in June and hope to start a family with my fiancé Adam next year. I was able to walk Australian Fashion Week in May last year and I think they may be bringing me back this year to walk."
TPN still has life-threatening risks
However the treatment does come with its challenges. Ms Kelly has to be attached to the IV drip for 16 hours a day, which she is able to take home with her, as well as take off the pole and carry with her in a backpack.
"TPN is mostly used in hospitals but I am lucky enough to have it at home, 6 nights a week," she said.
The method is also "often a last resort" and "carries many risks".
Last year she had "three near death experiences" from sepsis and spent 12 weeks in hospital.
"You can do everything right and then one tiny bug just gets into your bloodstream," she said. "I lost an organ from it, and was in ICU for a while."
She said that because of the "sugars and vitamins going through your bloodstream from TPN not being natural" it can cause issues for your body, however she is "a bit stable now".
Nurse still has 'mental cravings' for food
Despite not needing to eat, Ms Kelly said she still gets cravings and eats for social reasons thanks to her Gastrostomy tube, which drains out her stomach.
"I don’t feel my hunger in the pit of my stomach, it's kind of a mental craving, like if you’ve gotten your period and could really go for some chocolate," she said. "Or if Maccas bring out a new item, I'll want to try that."
"Theres no point eating vegetables and stuff like that because it won't absorb, and junk food won’t cause me high cholesterol."
"Because the food just sits there, I can normally leave it for one or two hours, maybe even 4 hours max, but it will eventually make me bloated. And even if I drain it out, I might have pain and nausea because it’ll make my stomach really unhappy."
However she wants people with her condition or other serious chronic conditions to know that they can still "have a good life and enjoy things," which she hopes to communicate on her social media platforms.
Ms Kelly aims to go back to nursing this year at Sydney Children's Hospital in Westmead, as well as finish her Bachelor and Masters of Nursing which were put on hold due to her medical conditions.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.