BCU student raises awareness about stoma medical bags

This post was originally published on Birmingham Eastside.

Medical conditions have always been a sensitive subject. Nothing can be more frustrating than to be limited in your activities by either a physical inability or cosmetic change. Some suffer more than others but for many this problem is unseen by public eyes.

Karolina Kushowska is one of those people who set out to help others. A BCU student, she has chosen to raise awareness about a subject that few know about: stoma care. But what is it exactly?

About Stoma

It’s difficult to place the word in any context. Without medical knowledge, most guesses could range wildly between very different areas of expertise.

People in Birmingham weren’t any less confused when asked about it.

Despite the varied opinions most Brummies were close. A stoma is a surgically-created opening through the side of the abdomen. A stoma bag is attached to this opening. Depending on the case, this bag may serve to house your intestines or help with the disposal of waste products: urine and feces.

There are many reasons why you would require this. It might be a temporary requirement while healing after a surgery. In more severe cases like bowel and bladder cancer, the patient could have to wear a stoma bag permanently.

Stoma Bag

Needless to say that these cases come with a high degree of discomfort for the patient. Having to wear a stoma bag can be a nuisance especially when considering the fact that these need to be regularly changed. Understandably, many fall under the impression that such a bag means an end to sports or a generally active lifestyle. Mostly they are wrong.

Debbie Smith is a community stoma nurse for Salts Healthcare, a company specialized in stoma products. For the last 4 years, she’s been helping out stoma patients adapt to their new lifestyle. She explains that denial is the first thing most people encounter after surgery, a refusal to even look at their bag. After that comes depression.

In the following interview, she talks a bit about what this medical procedure is and how it affects patients.

Hidden by clothes, a stoma bag is hard to see by others so discrimination is not an issue. But for the people whose daily lives are affected by it, it’s a reason to be ashamed. The Brummies we interviewed had a few ideas about what could be done to make this a more widely discussed issue.

This student is trying to start a change

Karolina Kushowska is a student at Birmingham City University.

Karolina Kuszowska
Karolina Kuszowska
Image from personal archive

Originally from Malbork Poland, her interest in brand image and PR led to a public relations degree in her native country. After two years, she moved to Istanbul with the Erasmus scheme before graduating.

The 24-year-old wanted to improve her English so she started a Masters degree in Events and Exhibition Management. This contributes to her dream of organizing a large scale events company. She wants to be the boss she’s never seen.

“I’ve never wanted to be employed. I hate working for someone because every single time I see the mistakes they make, the way they behave and the way they treat people. I want to be a really good boss.” says Karolina. 

Working part time for Salts Healthcare, Karolina realized the company’s specialism, stoma bags, was something unknown for her up until then. She had found a good opportunity to work for her MA by Practice module while creating a campaign to raise awareness about stoma.

Karolina’s goals are to help patients build self esteem and make them more open to talk about their condition. Tipicaly, stoma patients are not socially active which is why she wants them to get out and enjoy life.

Through her work, Karolina has met several patients, many of whom are ashamed and reluctant to talk about their lives.

“A good example is Salts Healthcare organizing meetings for stoma patients. They invite many but just 20 come because most are not willing to leave the house or share their problems with others.” says Karolina.

The final output will consist of an exhibition involving patients. Passionate about photography, Karolina intends to display portraits and videos of patients in the hope of giving courage to others. She wants to build a platform where people can meet and talk to each other about their common problem.


Her interest is not without precedent. Last year, Bethany Townsend gained popularity through an Instagram picture showing her colostomy bag in a pose that many regarded as brave.

The Worcester make-up artist nearly died because she was suffering from Crohn’s disease (more coverage here). Husband Ian built her confidence and she started posting pictures from their holiday.


Karolina has high hopes about her project and hopes that one day people will have the courage they need to better live with stoma bags.

1 Comment

  1. I am looking forward to seeing more initiatives like that. Raising awareness in the society helps patients to embrace their daily problems (not only stoma bag related) with higher spirits. Definitely a good job!

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