FORMER fitness instructor Natalie Wallis has not eaten food in eight years after being diagnosed with a condition that means her stomach does not work.
But despite being in almost constant pain and watching others eat the food she loves to cook, the 31-year-old says she is always smiling and tries to not let it get her down.
Seeing those pictures is like watching someone else waste away.Natalie Wallis
Now Natalie’s family and friends, from Havant, are hoping to raise £15,000 for a stomach ‘pacemaker’ to be fitted which may mean she can start eating normally again.
Natalie, who grew up in Waterlooville, said: ‘The pacemaker will be a life-changer.’
Before her diagnosis with gastroparesis, Natalie was a fitness instructor and played football three times a week.
But the condition, which affects the nerves controlling the stomach muscles, means she cannot digest food and even drinking too much water causes her to be sick.
She is being treated at Southampton General Hospital, where attempts have been made to feed her through tubes.
But having not eaten for years, Natalie has lost weight. At her lowest she was just five-and-a-half stone.
She said: ‘When I was first diagnosed with the condition I ate normally, but I would end up being sick.
‘It got to the point where I was told if I could stick to liquids to do that because it’s easier to digest. But even if I drink too much water, it can make me sick. I haven’t eaten an actual meal in eight years.
‘The hospital has tried intravenous feeding, but because I’m so small my veins are small and they couldn’t handle the amount of liquids being put in. The tube in my arm actually cut off the circulation.’
But as well as suffering from gastroparesis, Natalie has an overactive bowel, so any food that is fed to her she cannot retain. It means she misses out on the vitamins and nutrients.
At the moment, she is being fed through the process normally used for children where the tube goes straight into the stomach. She said it has been in place for a week and she is slowly gaining weight.
She goes into hospital a few times a week for treatment but still finds the time to see her family, walk her two dogs Indie and Neeka and help people with everyday jobs.
The former chef said she tried not to let her condition stop her living, but she admitted it was hard sometimes.
‘I look at pictures from before I got ill and it’s hard to believe that was me,’ she said.
‘It is quite sad. Seeing those pictures is like watching someone else waste away.
‘A few years ago, when I started feeling a little better, I tried to go back to the gym and do workouts like I used to, but I couldn’t.
‘But I am strong-minded and I have to accept I will never be that person again.’
Natalie hopes the pacemaker will make a difference. The operation to fit the machine is not available on the NHS, so Natalie will need to have it done privately. Her family have raised nearly £4,000 thanks to the help of donors.
She said: ‘It is really overwhelming to know people who don’t even know me have been donating. It is really touching.
‘For some people the pacemaker changes their lives and it is something I have to try to see if I can lead a normal life again. Just being able to work and eat a meal would make a huge difference. It would change my life.’
Natalie’s sister, Gemma Armitage, has been helping with the fundraising after a page was set up by Natalie’s friends.
Gemma said: ‘My sister has had to live with this for eight years and has fought a huge, challenging battle that not a lot of people understand. She is an inspirational person who gives freely and helps others. I am so proud of her and all that she has achieved.’
To donate, visit gofundme.com/stomach-pacemaker