A Different Kind of Healing
By Darby Graff
”Mom, I need you to pray for me … umm, I have been having some blood when I wipe after I go to the bathroom.”
That's not really the conversation every 20 year old wants to have with their mom, but I was worried. I was a D1 college volleyball athlete at Texas A&M trying to establish a spot on the starting roster when I suffered a sprained ankle, which an MRI revealed included a chipped bone that required surgery to clean up. Afterwards, trying to minimize pain and swelling, I had taken plenty of ibuprofen and everyone thought it had irritated my stomach. But I didn’t stop bleeding after I got off ibuprofen, so they sent me to see a gastro for a colonoscopy.
“A colonoscopy? Isn’t that what you get after you are 50? I should have 30 years to go before I need one of those!”
My First Colonoscopy + Diagnosis
I remember mom praying for the upcoming appointment and praying for healing of whatever was going on in my body. And then she came to town to take me to my appointment and help me with the prep. No one can prepare you for that first colonoscopy prep! After the colonoscopy, mom and I were told that I was being diagnosed with UC with unknown origin. We weren’t told much, except to be given a couple of prescriptions and to call if symptoms changed or worsened. Again, mom prayed that the medicines would bring healing.
Looking Forward to A New Adventure
The medicine seemed to be working and I was looking forward to graduation in the spring. Due to a redshirt freshman year and a year’s worth of college credits from dual-credit high school courses, I had two years of eligibility left and could pursue a master’s degree while still playing. I chose to transfer to another D1, Arkansas State, and was looking forward to the new adventure. My family and friends continued to pray with me that I would see complete healing of the UC and not have to be on meds for a long time. I’m not sure that anyone had really expressed to us the full magnitude of UC at this point.
Unknowingly Persevering Through A Flare
Graduation came and I was actually feeling pretty good. Other than minor irritations when I ate certain foods, I was able to not think about the UC other than when I was taking my meds. I moved into my new apartment on campus and began summer workouts with my new team. I was feeling good until about 2 weeks into practices when I started experiencing bleeding again. I was determined not to let this mess up our season. What a season it was! I was finally able to get on the court and compete with my volleyball sisters and we were winning big! That year we won every game except a pre-season, non-conference match against Missouri. Looking back, I realize I was in a flare the entire season, but I was determined to beat whatever this thing called UC was throwing at me. I experienced severe dehydration which landed me in the hospital for a couple of days and also started battling a sore-throat which turned into strep throat. But despite the exhaustion I was on cloud 9! My team was 28-1 and we were headed to the NCAA tournament!!
Searching for Healing
I was having a hard time shaking the strep throat and it was time to get on the bus to catch our flight to Seattle. I remember getting on the flight and remember arriving in Seattle, but I don’t remember much else of that trip - except that I did not get to play in that game and my dreams felt like they were crashing all around me. That trip was the beginning of a 2 month time period which saw me hospitalized multiple times, with several attempts at different med changes, and blood transfusions. My prayers felt like they were going unheard and I just wanted to feel better, but nothing seemed to be going right. Our friends and family stood with us in prayer that God was going to bring healing and on Feb 1, 2016, my GI decided after another week in the hospital that it was time for another colonoscopy. He called my parents who were waiting in my room with the news that things were not going well and I needed to be transported to a hospital that had specialists who could better treat me.
On February 3rd, God answered our prayers for healing when I had a total colectomy. I woke up with an ileostomy and the plan for creating a j-pouch in 2 more surgeries. I had lost 65 lbs and almost all of my muscle had wasted from the previous 2 months when my body was basically shutting down due to the severely diseased colon. I named my stoma Gus-Gus and we went home to get well.
People don’t always understand why I say that God healed me on February 3rd because we tend to think of healing that does not require major organ removing surgery, but on February 4th I woke up a day after my surgery and knew that my body was healed. Other than a few minor inconveniences along the way, the past 4 years have seen my body restored to pre-UC strength. I have been blessed to renew my volleyball career on the sidelines as first the assistant and now the head volleyball coach at East Texas Baptist University. I have been given countless opportunities to share my experiences with others who are struggling with IBD or other health issues and offer support and a listening ear from someone who understands where they are at and what they are going through. I don’t have a diseased colon anymore, and for that I am thankful. I believe there was a purpose in my struggles and a purpose in the manner in which God chose to heal my body. I look forward to seeing how He will use my story next and I pray that my story of healing brings comfort and strength to someone else who might be worried about a surgery that is in their future.
About Darby Graff
My name is Darby Graff. I am 26 years old. I played volleyball at Texas A&M and graduated in 2015 with a B.S. in Sports Management. I transferred to Arkansas State to work on my Masters in Sports Administration while playing my last two seasons of eligibility. I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2014 and had surgery to remove my whole colon January of 2016. I had 2 more surgeries to create the JPouch. I’ve always been involved with athletics, from the time I could walk to this very day, I am now the Head Volleyball Coach at East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas.
This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.