Aspiring tattoo artist bed-bound by illness launches his own business after life-changing seven-hour operation
A young man who was “bed bound” for months by a debilitating condition is now “in a better place than he could ever imagine”, thanks to life-changing surgery at Epsom Hospital.
Liam Silvester was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis – an inflammatory bowel disease – when he was just 17.
The condition had a huge impact on Liam’s physical and mental health, escalating in 2022 when he lost six stone in less than a year. Liam was so unwell and in such unbearable pain, that he could not stand and did not leave his house the entire time.
However, six months on from having surgery, the now-23-year-old has returned to full health, has regained his confidence – and is also about to realise his dream of launching his own business.
“Before my surgery I was stuck in bed for months, and it seemed like the world was passing me by and I was missing out on everything,” said the Carshalton resident. “There was no light at the end of the tunnel. I had no plan.
“But thanks to the team at Epsom Hospital, I have gained weight, and have my work and social life back – along with my smile. I cannot thank the staff that helped me through my procedure enough.”
The road to beating the condition started when Liam had his first appointment with Mr Ashish Gupta, a Consultant General and Laparoscopic Colorectal Surgeon.
Liam – who had to be wheeled to hospital in a wheelchair because his body was so weak – met Mr Gupta to discuss his options, which included undergoing a procedure known as a panproctocolectomy.
Three months later Liam was taken into theatre for the seven-hour keyhole surgery, which he describes as removing a “bag for life”-size section of his digestive system. Five days after that he was back home – “with a colostomy bag and a new life”.
“I just remember really enjoying eating during those first few days – it must be one of the only times it’s OK to eat so much unhealthy food!” said Liam.
“I also started going on lots of dog walks. Since then, I’ve put on four stone. I feel comfortable, and in better health than I have ever felt.
“From the moment I saw Mr Gupta, I felt like I was taken seriously. I felt like I was really listened to. He was so professional, and he knew exactly what I needed.
“When I was going into surgery, he was so reassuring. Afterwards, he visited daily and checked up on me. Now, my scars are pretty much gone – everything was flawless.
“My stoma nurse, Lindsay Trevarthen, was also incredible. She has the answers before you’ve even thought of the questions. I feel so confident because of her – she’s always there. She always has the answer and is able to reassure me.”
Liam will never forget the huge impact his illness had – from forcing him to drop out of university, to affecting his social life. But now he has his sights set firmly on the future.
Next month, he will open his own tattoo parlour in West Norwood – a feat he has wanted to set in motion since university, but couldn’t have imagined until now.
“When I was younger, I was always anxious when I went out, especially with friends,” said Liam. “When you’re that age, you worry about how it’s perceived. It’s a real kick to your mental health.
“I had to plan everything. I wouldn’t eat two hours before leaving the house, and an hour before I left I had to make sure I went to the toilet. I couldn’t use public transport, it had to be a cab.
“None of that needs to be thought about now. I don’t have any worries. I don’t have to think about anything when I leave the house. I just throw some clothes on, and go out.”
Liam was so grateful for the care he received that he and his mum, Elaine, sent a thank-you letter to the hospital. It is one of dozens of such letters to be sent to St George’s, Epsom and St Helier Hospital Group this year.
Mr Gupta is no stranger to praise from his patients and their families. Since being appointed in 2014, he has received multiple letters of thanks – and more than any other person at Epsom Hospital in that time. Lindsay has also received a number of gratitude messages.
Jacqueline Totterdell, Group Chief Executive of St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals and Health Group, said: “Reading Liam’s letter filled me with immense pride, and I’m delighted to hear he’s doing so well. I hope Mr Gupta, Lindsay, and all the staff involved in Liam’s care realise how incredible they are.
“Our teams so often say they don’t do their jobs for praise. But it’s so important we recognise the amazing people at our hospital group who change patients’ lives.”
Mr Gupta said: “When Liam came to my clinic he was so weak that he could not even walk, and it was obvious he had low quality of life. He was very clear he wanted this surgery, and I couldn’t be happier with how smoothly it went. It is a long operation, but I was pleased to see how quickly Liam recovered without any complications.
“It has always given me immense pleasure treating my patients with the respect and quality care they all deserve, and I feel privileged to be in this position. At the end of a day, a smile on a patient is what drives us to continue to work hard!
“I feel passionate in treating each and every patient the way I would like to be treated myself. I believe it is these core values and qualities that define a good doctor: they are timeless and long may they remain so.”
Lindsay said: “Liam has made a remarkable recovery from his surgery and he is an inspiration to people with ulcerative colitis who require surgery and live with a permanent stoma.
“It was a privilege to have supported Liam during his journey, and I wish him all the very best in his new career venture. I am sure that he will tell me all about it when I see him next! Thank you, Liam, for telling your story. We are very proud of you and we are proud that we were able to give you your life – and smile – back!”
If you would like to recognise and celebrate the teams and individuals that go the extra mile at St George’s, Epsom and St Helier, visit: www.epsom-sthelier.nhs.uk/your-feedback