Model reveals what it is like living with condition that leaves her no control over bowels

She uses her experience to advocate on behalf of chronic illnesses 

Chelsea Ritschel
Monday 17 June 2019 20:30 BST
Anja Christoffersen discusses her bowel condition with Continence foundation of Australia

An Australian model who suffers from a condition that means she has no control over her bowels has revealed what it is like living and working with the illness ahead of World Continence Week.

Anja Christoffersen, from Brisbane, developed VACTERL association, a disease that stands for vertebral defects, anal atresia, cardiac defects, tracheo-esophageal fistula, renal anomalies, and limb abnormalities, when she was still in the womb.

Since then, she has undergone more than 24 surgical procedures to deal with the effects of the condition, including surgeries to reconstruct her air and food pathways and to reconstruct her pelvic pathway.

According to the 20-year-old, when she was younger, doctors were confident that she would be able to control her bowels by the time she was a teenager, and not have to manually clear her body of waste.

“As a child I remember doctors saying that I would be able to go to the toilet like a ‘normal person’ when I was a teenager, instead of doing daily bowel washouts to manage my complete faecal incontinence,” she told the DailyMail. “But when I got to my teenage years, things became even more complex, rather than easier, so this dream of my body working like everyone else’s shattered.”

According to Christoffersen, what she finds especially hard about living with the illness is having no control over her own body.

“It feels like you lose the right to say no to things as doctors have to do things for your benefit that are incredibly unpleasant,” she said, adding that she never has any idea when she will have an accident, or when her symptoms will become so severe that she struggles to get out of bed.

However, despite living with the condition, the 20-year-old model said that the illness does not define her - and has never thought of herself as “different or weird”.

After becoming a model, Christoffersen transitioned into pageants, which she believes offer her a better outlet for her voice, which she regularly uses to discuss and raise awareness of VACTERL association and other chronic illnesses.

And, although she has experienced certain “embarrassing” incidents, she has no plans to let her illness stop her from doing what she loves - and hopes to encourage others to do the same.

“Never be defined by your illness or circumstances, you are born for a reason. You are never given more than you can handle,” she said.

On Instagram, where Christoffersen regularly discusses her condition, people have praised the model for her openness.

“You are truly inspirational! Thank you for showing our children scars are not to be hidden, that overcoming surgeries and incontinence make you braver and stronger not weaker or meeker,” one person wrote.

Another said: “Thank you so much for sharing your story.”

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According to the NHS, VACTERL association affects anywhere from one in 10,000 to 40,000 births and the cause is unknown.

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