By James Somper
A mum who split up with her ex-husband after she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease said the debilitating condition helped her find the man of her dreams.
Natalie Gardner, 32, split from her hubby in 2012 after her painful diagnosis caused them to drift apart.
But less than three years since her breakup, the disease introduced her to new heartthrob Ste Walker, 28 who also suffers from the condition after the pair met on an online support group for the condition.
Now the loved-up couple, from Derby, are speaking out about their unusual love story – and how their disease brought them together.
Mum-of-two Natalie said: “Crohn’s brought Ste and I together. Without it, we wouldn’t have met.
“Of course the disease brings its day-to-day challenges, but we manage as best we can.
“I’ve found my soulmate and I couldn’t be happier.
“Crohn’s disease brought us together – we wouldn’t have met otherwise.”
Natalie she was diagnosed with Crohn’s in October 2012, just months after she got married to her ex-husband.
But the condition caused her constant agony and made her drop nearly a stone in weight in less than a week.
She said sex became impossible because of the constant pain and discomfort she was in and that her marriage began to break down.
In February 2016, Natalie and her husband made the agonising decision to split up.
Natalie said: “I was going out for meals but socialising became a huge challenge. I felt so sick all the time and it was just so embarrassing.
“I was constantly going backwards and forwards to the toilet.
“It felt it almost like a half-life. I did my best for my two little boys but getting through the days was a real struggle.”
“As soon as the kids went to bed I’d have to go to bed too, so being intimate was just off the cards.
“My ex worked long hours to support us, but I was really ill.
“At the beginning of February we decided it was in our best interests to split.”
In April 2016, after suffering from nearly three years of agony, Natalie was admitted to hospital to have part of her small bowel removed and had an ileostomy bag fitted.
She spent almost a month in hospital as she recovered from the disease and came to terms with having to use an ileostomy bag.
After her marriage collapsed, Natalie’s only solace was in an online support group for people with Crohn’s.
And in June 2016 she met Ste, a former professional rugby player who was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2012, online.
Natalie said: “At first it was just getting to know each other and he was just giving me advice.
“But in July we met for the first time.
“When we first met I knew I’d done the right thing. We got on really well, knew what each other were going through. I’ve never looked back.”
As the couple both have Crohn’s and wear ileostomy bags, they say that they have to take precautions when it comes to being intimate.
But after nearly two-and-a-half years together, they’ve said that they’ve never been happier – and their condition doesn’t stop them from enjoying a healthy relationship.
Natalie said: “The first time was really mortifying. My bag leaked and I woke up in his bed.
“But Ste was so good, he just got up and when I got back he’d taken the sheets off and changed them and had made me a cup of tea.
“It was great to know that I was still attractive. He was so vocal about it and he still said I was beautiful
“We have to be careful obviously. You do lose the spontaneity as you can’t do anything with a full bag.
“But, after a while we just get used to it and don’t even really think about it. Lots of people think we can’t have sex but we do.
“We just have to take precautions and we live as much of a normal life as we possibly can.”
Ste added: “It’s nice knowing what each other are going through but it’s also a double edged sword because you know how much pain they’re going through as well.
“Natalie means the world to me and she supports me through everything.”