|Seven Bridges Charles was born in 2008 with serious health issues that required 26 subsequent surgeries and required him to wear a colostomy pouch. News reports stated that he was bullied in school for being an ostomate.
On January 19, 2019, this 10-year-old boy from Kentucky died by suicide. His mother found him dead in his closet. She had just returned from the grocery store; the young man’s father was at church choir practice.
This news rocked the world of the certified ostomy nurses here in the United States. We work tirelessly everyday helping ostomates in different health settings—hospitals, long-term care, skilled nursing facilities, community settings, and ostomates’ homes. We teach our patients and their support persons how to take care of their ostomies: how to apply their appliance, empty their pouches, choose the appropriate ostomy supplies, prevent leakage, treat peristomal skin issues, proper diet and hydration, and many other topics, all intended to help them cope with living with an ostomy. We also actively participate in ostomy support groups to be a resource for the members.
It’s always a challenge to help our patients accept their ostomies. Anxiety is not an unusual response. Difficulty with dealing with this major body image and the change in bodily functions is expected. We, as ostomy nurses, can only imagine how it was for this young boy to live with a colostomy. For children, being different from their peers is difficult to accept. Young kids want to belong and to be accepted. And, in fact, belonging to a group, being accepted, not being ostracized is a fundamental need.
That Seven Bridges was bullied for having an ostomy is heartbreaking for us as ostomy nurses. We feel that being bullied for being different, for having a medical condition, is despicable. We, as a society, should stop this unkindness and incivility towards others who are different. We should hold ourselves as well as our leaders in the highest offices in this great nation to a higher and noble standard of behavior. What example are we setting when we make fun of people with medical conditions? What are we teaching our children when we call each other mean names?
As ostomy nurses, we can also come up with concrete plans to counteract this bullying. We can conduct information sessions in schools to increase awareness about ostomies. We can advocate for mental health counseling for ostomates who are dealing with emotional and mental issues. We can sponsor ads in different print, broadcast, and social media where we can raise awareness about the problem of bullying and suggest ways to stop it. We can be active in lobbying for legislation. We can even run for office and help advance the rights of people with disabilities.
The death of this young ostomate from suicide is one death too many. We do not need to see any more tragedies before we act. The time is now to speak loudly, more forcefully, and more passionately about the ugliness of bullying people with disabilities and bullying anyone, period. As with most positive changes, careful planning and execution of sensible policies and implementation of evidence based practices are imperative. We do not need to witness another tragedy like what happened to Seven Bridges.
When a tragedy of this nature occurs, it’s natural to wonder what could have been done to change the outcome, and we may never know. We can, however, honor Seven’s memory by acting now to improve the lives of persons with ostomies and other medical conditions, especially children, and to help prevent and counteract bullying. We ostomy nurses can encourage ostomates to join ostomy support groups, which are available online and in person. The United Ostomy Associations of America (UOAA, www.ostomy.org) is an excellent resource for ostomy education, advocacy and support. The UOAA has resources for pediatric patients and their parents: download the PDF “Pediatric Ostomy Resources” at ostomy.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/UOAA_Pediatric_Ostomy_Resources.pdf.
Furthermore, as members of our communities, ostomy nurses can become anti-bullying partners and resources to help prevent bullying and support those who are bullied. The website www.stopbullying.gov is a U.S. government resource for bullying prevention and management. Some of the prevention strategies mentioned on this website
- teaching kids about bullying
- keeping communication open about bullying
- encouraging kids to pursue their favorite activities outside of school
- serving as a role model for the kind and respectful treatment of others.
In conclusion, Seven Bridges Charles’ death is a call to action for us to advocate for those who are suffering and do what we can to improve their lives through education, advocacy, and bullying prevention and support.
Armi Earlam and Lisa Woods work as wound, ostomy, and continence nurses at Lutheran Medical Center (Part of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Hospital System SCLHS) in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.