Our hidden community

Elaine Scott and Garry Wall place completed orders in Australia Post bags at the Geelong Ostomy Association hub in Grovedale. (Ivan Kemp) 383087_06

Did you know that there is a secret community in Geelong? It has around 900 members, men, women and children from all walks of life.

Who are these people? They are ostomates.

To put your mind at rest, ostomates are not members of some sinister force. They go about their business in a quiet, determined manner.

Ostomates are people who have had major surgery to treat a serious condition such as severe colitis, Crohn’s disease, bowel cancer, bladder cancer. During this life saving surgery the surgeon has made an opening elsewhere in the body to allow body waste to be collected in an external pouch. In some cases, the surgery can be reversed at a later stage and normal body functions can be restored. The opening created by the surgeon is known as a stoma.

“To avoid stigma many ostomates will only reveal their condition to a close inner circle of family and friends,” Geelong Ostomy president Garry Wall said.

“For many this is a heart-breaking secret to keep, as most ostomates are fully abled and live normal lives in much the same way as other citizens. There are over 45,000 ostomates nationally. They are represented in a wide range of occupations – manufacturing, trades, real estate, and in professions such as accounting, law, and medicine.”

Each pouch costs around $6 and or more than $2000 annually.

Fortunately, these expenses are fully covered under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

Geelong is fortunate to have its own centre operated in Grovedale by Geelong Ostomy, entirely staffed by around 20 experienced volunteers, most of whom are also ostomates.

“These 20 men and women, several of whom have long retired from employment, are contributing freely to keep essential supplies flowing to the ostomate community,” Mr Wall said.

“Each month this group takes delivery and unloads about 10 pallets of bulk supplies, and makes up 650 individual packages. In total that adds up to well over 7000 parcels for the year.”

Geelong Ostomy is a registered charity and is looking to grow its pool of volunteers. Phone (03) 5243 3664 or email contactus@geelongostomy.com.au