Breaking Through An Invisible Barrier

Take a good look at Red Deer’s Josh Hall. What do you see?

Hang around him long enough and you’ll surely pick up on a few things: he’s a proud British Columbian turned Albertan, a movie and sports fan, a loving husband, and a doting father. Perhaps he’s best known for his work as a journalist with rdnewsNOW and as a member of the Red Deer Rebels radio broadcasts.

What you won’t see is the invisible battle raging inside his body, one he has been fighting since 2007.

Late that year, Josh began suffering from stomach pain while living in Chilliwack, British Columbia. After attempting to ride out the pain for a month, Josh eventually went to a walk-in clinic. There, doctors tested him for giardiasis (beaver fever), a parasitic disease that can cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss. They did so because he had just returned from a stint as a camp counsellor. The test results came back negative.

Six months later, Josh underwent a colonoscopy that led to the diagnosis of mild ulcerative colitis in August 2008. Ulcerative colitis (UC) is a long-term condition that can result in inflammation and ulcers of the colon and rectum. While the primary symptoms are abdominal pain or diarrhea, it can also cause weight loss, fever or anemia, as well as mental health issues like depression due to the nature of the disease.

“I was an athlete but … like most kids, I drank Slurpees, I went to McDonald’s and ate fast food,” Josh recalls.  “I led as normal a life as possible before I was diagnosed, just like any other healthy person.”

According to Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of Canada, approximately 233,000 Canadians are living with some form of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): 129,000 with Crohn’s disease and 104,000 with ulcerative colitis.

“It wasn’t until a few years down the road when I had lost all my physical fitness that I really realized what my diagnosis meant,” he says, reflecting on his experience. “At the time, when they told me, I was kind of clueless. I really didn’t know what colitis was.”

In 2015, Josh and his family relocated to Red Deer. The move provided a boost not only for his career as a journalist but also for his fight against UC.

Soon after his arrival in Central Alberta, Josh began seeing a new specialist, Dr. J. David Ryan, who quickly referred him to the care of the Medical Specialty Clinic at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

Within the clinic, Josh was paired with a support system that included a case manager, specialists, dietitians, and counsellors.

“They are part of an important team that I’ve had in my life to help me along,” Josh raves. “They helped me get connected back in 2015 with new treatments. They helped me keep my morale up.”

Josh started seeing a dietitian following a UC flare that summer which caused him to lose almost 25 pounds over six weeks. The fact she was able to help him gain the weight back was a miracle, Josh explains.

“She was amazing. She got me so much on the right track that I was able to do a Spartan Race the next year.” 

Two years later, with his UC fully in remission, Josh was able to complete the feat again.

As a well-known local journalist, Josh has started educating others about living with a chronic illness and is open about his own battle.

“Before I was diagnosed I had no idea what IBD was. I didn’t have any idea what it was like to live with a chronic illness. I never really gave it a thought – of what it must be like for somebody to live with a chronic illness. But, over the years, I’ve gained this respect and appreciation for people who do live with a chronic illness because now I’m one of them.”

Josh has also been witness to the incredible difference donors can make to health care in Central Alberta. The proceeds from the 2015 and 2016 Festival of Trees paid for a two-phase renovation of the Medical Specialty Clinic.

“It’s just more welcoming. It’s brighter in there. It looks more modern. It’s a better environment for both patients and health professionals to work in,” Josh says of the change. “I can’t say thank you enough to somebody who had donated to that cause.”

A room in the newly renovated medical specialty clinic.

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