I was born with a rare birth defect called bladder exstrophy, meaning that my bladder was turned inside out. In 1969, just before my fourth birthday, I had urostomy surgery.
As a child with an ostomy, my life could easily have been one of isolation and shame. But my family was committed to treating me like any other child. This would prove to be the motivation for and the foundation of a life dedicated to helping others overcome their own challenges.
Shortly after my ostomy surgery, my mother and my surgeon founded the Children’s Tri-State Ostomy Association (Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia), the first organization in the world dedicated to helping parents of children with an ostomy. I was closely involved in this organization and grew up surrounded by other children facing serious health issues. This inspired me and taught me compassion. It also prevented me from asking, “Am I alone?” I knew there were many people just like me.
Read More: Thomas Exler Story