British doctors told this beauty queen she was anorexic – in fact she had a twisted gut
It took 18 years before they did a scan. Scans cost money, you know
When 21-year-old Camilla Chia was crowned Miss Oxford last summer, it marked the end of a lifelong battle with her health. None of those who voted for her knew that the vibrant, shapely student had battled stomach pain and sickness all her life, and had been repeatedly dismissed by the medical profession as neurotic.
But underneath her one-piece swimming costume, the Oxford-based student hid a two-inch scar through the middle of her belly button — the result of an operation that, two years ago, turned her life around.
Camilla’s childhood was punctuated pain. ‘I don’t remember when my tummy didn’t hurt,’ she says. ‘Sometimes it would be right in the middle of my abdomen, then at other times high up under my rib cage. ’ She had been a sickly baby, and her mother assumed she was suffering from colic for many years. But things got much worse when she started senior school, at 11.
The episodes of pain — which struck at least twice a week — were so severe she’d be rolled up into a ball in agony for hours. Her only relief was a hot-water bottle. Before long she had burn marks on her stomach from clutching it so tightly for such long periods of time.
Doctors were baffled. Camilla was tested for parasites (they’d been on a family holiday to Malaysia, so it was considered a possible cause), treated for irritable bowel syndrome and sent home once with a course of drugs to treat what was thought to be ‘stomach migraine’.
Nothing worked. And by the age of 14 the attacks were joined by frequent bouts of violent sickness. ‘The really debilitating thing was the fact that there was no pattern to the episodes,’ says Camilla. ‘So I never knew when the pain would come, or when I’d be extremely sick.’
She had to take a lot of time off school, and missed out on much of the fun, social side of her teenage years. ‘Each time I was sick the pain would ease for a few minutes, then it would build, and I’d be sick again. This would happen three or four times in a row, lasting half a day and right through the night.’
Unable to keep food down, Camilla lost a lot of weight. At her lowest, she dropped to five-and-a-half stone (she’s 5ft 7in tall) and her periods stopped.
Her GP became convinced she was anorexic. But her mother refused to accept the diagnosis and continued to research possible causes for Camilla’s pain, repeatedly begging the GP for help.
‘Each time we went I would be weaker and more exhausted than the last, so Mum would have to do all the talking, and they soon started to think she was neurotic, too.’ At 16, Camilla hit rock-bottom when a protracted bout of pain and sickness lasted for three weeks. ‘I was so weak I couldn’t get out of bed,’ she says. ‘I remember feeling so bad that I turned off my mobile phone — something a teenager would never do — because I couldn’t stand the noise of it ringing and felt just too wretched to talk to anyone.’
Finally, she collapsed, and her mother called an ambulance. She spent two weeks at the John Radcliffe Hospital, much of the time on a drip, and underwent a battery of tests. She was finally sent home with anti-nausea drugs (Motilium) which calmed her symptoms and the attacks dropped from two or three per week to about one a month.
Over the next year she was able to gain a little weight, and the barrage of tests continued. Gradually, the doctors started to think her symptoms might have a physical rather than a psychological cause and told Camilla they were considering the possibility that her gut might be twisting and then untwisting itself.
Then, just before her 18th birthday, she had a CT scan to check whether food was passing properly through her gut. There was a buzz of excitement in the scanning room and Camilla was ushered in front of Professor Neil Mortensen, clinical director of surgery, to hear the words she never thought she’d hear: ‘We’ve found out what’s wrong with you.’
Prof Mortensen explained she had a ‘malrotation of the gut’ where the small intestine becomes twisted at the point it meets the large intestine. ‘Malrotation happens in the womb,’ he explains. ‘As the foetus is developing, the gut grows in length, flopping from side to side as it folds itself inside the abdomen. For some reason, part of Camilla’s gut flopped to the right instead of the left, twisting the bowel.’
In some people, twists like this cause no problems. But for others, like Camilla, the bowel exists in a ‘subcritical’ state, working normally until you eat something fibrous, which creates a blockage at the point of the twist.
‘This can be extremely painful and potentially dangerous,’ says Prof Mortensen, ‘If the blood supply to the gut is reduced, that section can die, and if it’s not caught quickly, the condition can be fatal.’
Malrotation is rare. Prof Mortensen says he’d only expect to see one or two cases in his career, usually in very young children. And it is very difficult to diagnose. ‘We see many teenagers with tummy pains which can have all sorts of physical and psychological triggers,’ he says.
‘Symptoms like Camilla’s can very often be down to some kind of psychological problem — such as anorexia — growing pains or even Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory condition). Certainly in Camilla’s case, it took a while for the penny to drop.’
An operation was booked and Camilla was warned she would have a five to six-inch scar across her tummy.
‘Bizarrely, considering how much pain and discomfort I’d been through for so long, I found myself briefly worrying about the scar,’ she says. ‘But the thought of living life with no pain and no sickness was something I hadn’t ever allowed myself to even dream about, so I knew this procedure would change my life.’
During a one-and-a-half-hour operation, Prof Mortensen and his team made an incision below Camilla’s belly button and searched for the place where the bowel was twisted. ‘In Camilla’s case it was very obvious,’ he says. ‘Her gut had twisted 360 degrees into a kind of spiral, which was being held in place by spider’s web-like adhesions.’ The team were able to cut the threads holding her bowel in the wrong position, untwist it, and let it fall properly into place.
‘Sometimes you have to glue or suture [stitch] the bowel into the correct position in the stomach cavity but we were confident in Camilla’s case, that it would stay where it should,’ says Prof Mortensen.
Waking up from the operation, Camilla was thrilled to see the scar was only two inches long. And after a few days on fluids, Camilla recovered quickly and started to gain weight. Now she is a slim, fit, eight-and-a-half stone.
She says that although her stomach muscles are really strong, her digestive system is still a little sensitive. ‘I get bad stomach aches if I eat lots of processed foods, and I can’t use the Power Plate at the gym because the strong vibrations seem to shake everything around,’ she says.
In 2009, a friend at her gym put her name forward for a beauty contest, and she was crowned Miss Oxford last summer. ‘I still get emotional when I think about my teenage years,’ she says. ‘It was desperately difficult living with the prospect of always being sick and no one ever knowing what was wrong with me. ‘I certainly never thought I would end up competing in a beauty contest!’
Poor British children ‘fall behind classmates after two years of school’
The elephant in the room — IQ — is being ignored, of course. Rich kids come from brighter families and IQ is both hereditary and the best single predictor of educational success. And differences in IQ do tend to widen with age. Dumb kids peak earlier. See “The chimpanzee effect”
Children from poor families are falling up to eight months behind richer classmates after just two years of school, according to research. Despite billions spent attempting to boost social mobility under Labour, academics found the gap between rich and poor pupils widened throughout early education.
The study – based on a major analysis of children born in the first two years of the millennium – suggested that social class remained the biggest barrier to success at school.
Academics said the number of books in the home, parental qualifications, regular mealtimes and bedtimes, the state of housing and the quality of early childcare all had an impact on children’s education.
But Dr Alice Sullivan, senior lecturer at the University of London’s Institute of Education, who led the research, said Government policies designed to improve parenting skills were not enough to address chronic under-performance among deprived pupils.
She suggested that welfare reforms – including access to housing and jobs – would have a bigger impact on school standards. “Our research shows that while parenting is important, a policy focus on parenting alone is insufficient to tackle the impacts of social inequalities on children,” she said. “Redistributive economic policies may be more effective than policies directly addressing parenting practices.”
As part of the latest study, academics tracked the performance of more than 11,000 seven-year-olds in reading and maths. They also analysed teachers’ assessments of children’s abilities in other subjects such as speaking and listening, writing, science, maths, PE and creative arts.
The report – part of the Millennium Cohort Study, an on-going analysis of children across the UK born between 2000 and 2002 – compared education standards with pupils’ family backgrounds.
It found the children of parents in professional and managerial jobs were around eight months ahead of those with parents who were long-term unemployed.
The study found this gap had widened over the last two years. A similar test carried out when pupils started school aged five found that the gap was just four months – half as wide.
The conclusions come despite a sharp rise in funding under the last Government to address chronic underperformance among children born into the poorest households. In recent years, children have been given more access to free childcare and billions has been spent on a generation of Sure Start children’s centres in deprived communities.
The study found that a stable home environment and good parenting had an impact on children’s early education, but this was not enough to explain the differences.
Bogus foreign students in Britain facing visa crackdown after shocking figures show a quarter flout the rules
An end to the rampant abuse of the visa system by thousands of students who claim to be attending private colleges will be announced by ministers tomorrow.
The Home Office has uncovered shocking figures showing that 26 per cent of the non-EU students given permission to attend the colleges go on to flout the rules. They do not bother to go home, disappear into the black economy, or work illegally.
Under plans to be unveiled tomorrow, only students attending university courses will be entitled to a visa. Only a small number of the most trusted private colleges will be allowed to ‘sponsor’ migrants. In stark contrast to private colleges, only 2 per cent of immigrants going to university break immigration rules.
Ministers will also slash students’ entitlement to work – which is currently 20 hours a week – and limit their ability to bring in dependants.
They say the measures will help to meet their commitment to reduce net migration to the ‘tens of thousands’, while ending the abuse of student visas which took place under Labour.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: ‘They have left us with a system that is wildly out of control. The figures are staggering.’
The Home Office has uncovered shocking figures showing that 26 per cent of the non-EU students given permission to attend colleges in the UK go on to flout the visa system rules
Home Office research, released last night, shows that students represent almost two-thirds of the non-EU migrants entering the UK each year. Last year, the figure was more than 300,000.
But officials said 41 per cent of students from abroad were coming to study a course below degree level, and abuse was ‘particularly common’ at those levels.
A supposed student from Delhi, who travelled to the UK to enrol on a diploma course in hospitality management, thought the course would allow him to become a doctor. He could not understand English.
Mr Green said: ‘We will only admit people to do degrees at a genuine institution or with a verifiable sponsor.’
British police not interested in shoplifters
(Or car theft, for that matter — but a holocaust denier got 4 years in jail. What you say is more important than what you do, apparently)
High Street chains have launched 600,000 private legal actions against alleged shoplifters in ten years, it has emerged. Big names such as Boots, Tesco, Debenhams, Asda, TK Maxx, Wilkinson, B&Q and Superdrug are demanding a £150 penalty each time in civil actions against alleged thieves.
They adopted the policy after the last Labour government decided police no longer had to pursue criminal prosecutions against many shoplifters. Stores are angry that officers let many thieves go with a warning, while even persistent offenders often only pay a small fixed penalty fine.
The retailers’ ‘civil recovery’ move is designed to shame and punish those involved. People who refuse to pay up after receiving a lawyer’s letter are warned they will be pursued for payment in the county court, which is potentially embarrassing. The legal letters are often sent weeks after the event when the alleged thief involved thought the matter had been resolved.
However, the charity Citizens Advice says the big chains and their lawyers are targeting children and other vulnerable people. It is calling on stores to take a different and ‘fair’ approach to tackling shoplifting. The charity, which receives substantial grants from the taxpayer, claims some of those pursued are innocent, possibly having made a mistake at a self-service checkout.
Of 300 cases reported to Citizens Advice offices, a quarter involved teenagers, with most of those aged under 17. Others included the elderly, single mothers, carers and people with mental and physical disabilities.
The charity’s stance triggered fierce criticism from one of the biggest legal firms involved in ‘civil recovery’. Nottingham-based Retail Loss Prevention effectively accused the charity of wasting public money to support criminals. It said retail theft, including items stolen by employees, was £4.4billion a year and rising.
Retail Loss Prevention managing director Jackie Lambert said: ‘With spending cuts and the country struggling with a recession, are we, as a society, happy for public money to be spent defending in civil courts those caught stealing?’
Citizens Advice chief Gillian Guy said: ‘We do not condone crime of any kind or level, and do not underestimate the cost of retail crime, but in many of the cases the alleged theft is strongly denied.’
Alarmist Doomsday warning of rising seas ‘was wrong’, says British Met Office study
A partial backdown
Alarming predictions that global warming could cause sea levels to rise 6ft in the next century are wrong, it has emerged. The forecast made by the influential 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which would have seen cities around the world submerged by water, now looks ‘unlikely’.
A Met Office study also rules out the shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean’s conveyor belt, which would trigger Arctic winters in Britain like those seen in the film The Day After Tomorrow.
However, the report says the IPCC was right to warn of a sea level rise of up to 2ft by 2100, and that a 3ft rise could happen.
The IPCC underestimated the danger posed by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of methane from warmer wetlands, the report adds.
Vicky Pope, head of climate science at the Met Office, said: ‘In most cases, our new understanding has reinforced results from the IPCC report – and the degree of impact is about the same.’
The 2007 analysis was criticised last year after it was found to have wrongly claimed Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.
The new Met Office report is the first serious attempt to update the science of global warming since the publication of the IPCC Fourth Assessment. The new Government funded study, says the worst case scenario is now a one metre (3.3 ft) rise.
In 2007 the IPCC reported preliminary evidence that the Atlantic conveyor belt that brings warm water north and keeps Britain relatively mild for its latitude during winters was breaking down. But more recent observations show the currents are stable.
However, the report also has bad news. It says there is new evidence that the Arctic will become largely free of ice during most summers earlier in the century than the IPCC warned, and that the Greenland ice sheet is more likely to melt in centuries to come than previously thought. It also warns that the release of methane from warming wetlands will be greater than thought in 2007 – leading to more global warming in the coming decades.