Stoma Advocate Makes History Swimming Across the English Channel

  • 14/11/2023
  • Corporate

In 2011, Gill Castle was serving as a police officer in the UK and was pregnant with her first child. In October that year – six weeks before her due date – Gill’s new baby was born prematurely and she experienced traumatic childbirth complications that led to a permanent colostomy. 

Over the next three years, Gill was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), developed sepsis and had numerous surgical procedures, took early retirement from her career as a police officer, and struggled to find ostomy products that did not leak, and that would allow her to manage her stoma and maintain healthy peristomal skin.

“During those early months after my colostomy surgery,” Gill says, “I tried different types of stoma products. Not only did they leak, but I also had reactions to the barrier adhesives and my skin became increasingly red and sore. That small patch of reddened skin around my stoma had a huge impact on my ability to live a normal, active life and I began to limit my activities. I stopped going out for meals and visiting with friends, and I even avoided holding my child. Thankfully, I eventually discovered the Dansac NovaLife TRE™ ostomy products. Those products were lifesaving!”

With her stoma management finally getting under control, Gill began her journey back to health by simply walking for fitness. She also joined an indoor cycling group and began swimming regularly. A friend introduced her to triathlons and she even completed a half Ironman – raising money for the Birth Trauma Association in the UK. Gill has since been scuba diving, skydiving, and mountain climbing. Eventually, she began open-water swimming in the frigid waters of the North Sea, close to her home in Northeast England. “I thought, ‘well, maybe you can do these things after all – so just go out and do them before you get hit by a bus! You’ve got one life, so let’s live it!”

From that moment on, Gill has focused on being active and facing her fears – including her deep-seated fear of the sea and of open water – and challenging herself to see what is possible with a stoma. 

On Sept. 12, 2023, she achieved her goal of swimming solo across the English Channel from England to France. “‘Leave your doubts on the beach’ is the Channel crossing mantra,” she said. “I had certainly had doubts during my training and I had shed lots of tears at various moments. I had experienced intense anxiety about my stoma bag and about swimming in the dark, even questioning whether I would have the physical and mental endurance to finish such an epic challenge. But at that moment, I had no doubt whatsoever.”

Gill completed the swim 14 hours later, becoming the first ostomate to swim the English Channel. “Finally, I put my feet down and felt sand between my toes! I started running toward the shore, my arms raised over my head until I finally collapsed on the beach, sobbing. I was safe. I had done it.”


Learn more and watch Gill prepare for her swim on the digital version of JDS Inc. Highlights Quarterly, our corporate magazine, here.