Mike has undergone six major operations on both his back and bowel in the last 25 years and lives with on-going functional bowel problems.

He thanks his lucky stars for the advancement of medical research and the skills of two amazing surgeons which have helped him through.

Mike’s health problems began in his late teens.

“I was very into sport and being active and I first noticed a pain at the base of my spine. The pain gradually got worse and worse and I was struggling with mobility.

“At the age of 25, I was diagnosed with grade 3 lumbar Spondylolisthesis, essentially a fractured spine,” he said.

Two spinal fusion operations later, Mike ended up with severe bowel problems as a result of the surgery. The first fusion failed, so a second had to be performed.

“It was during the second spinal fusion operation in 1992 that the nerves to my bowel and, in particular, my rectal function were damaged.

Within a few weeks of surgery I knew that I couldn’t go to the loo properly.

"It turned out I was suffering from neurogenic constipation, which is a term used to describe dysfunction of the colon (constipation, faecal incontinence and disordered defaecation).

“Laxatives didn’t work and unfortunately my bowel prolapsed which necessitated my first operation in 1996: a resection and anastomosis. I was still in a pretty bad way and my condition only got worse. The doctors didn’t seem to know what to do with me, except offer a colostomy, which I was reluctant to have at that point.

A referral to the Royal London gave Mike more options

"Then in 2000 I was referred to the world-renowned Professor Norman Williams at the Royal London Hospital for a second opinion. It was amazing – suddenly someone understood and was willing to try and find a solution to a problem that I thought I was stuck with for life.

“Professor Williams offered an alternative procedure to a permanent colostomy. He performed a colonic conduit procedure, which meant I had to spend two-plus hours every day sitting on the toilet, emptying my bowel normally by first flushing it with warm water via a catheter which passed through a stoma and a non-return valve fashioned from my bowel. I did that for 12 years – that’s 8,760 hours sitting on the pan!

Mike spent 2 hours every day sitting on the loo

“It wasn’t good for my back, but it wasn’t good for my day-to-day life either.

When it’s 6am and you’re in the loo in the dark for two hours every day, you do wonder what you’re doing with your life.

“I got to the point where I couldn’t do it any more. The conduit wasn’t working well and an alternative to a permanent bag had to be investigated.

“After 12 years of irrigation I felt I’d given it a good shot. It was having too much of an impact on my life, my relationship and on those around me. There had to be an alternative.”

Mike went back to the Royal London in 2011 to see Professor Williams and fellow-surgeon Professor Charles Knowles to discuss the options.

After further tests, they decided to remove the conduit system and his entire large bowel and join the small bowel to the rectum (a subtotal colectomy and ileorectal anastomosis with loop ileostomy).

“In layman’s terms, it was major re-plumbing.  Both professors said it would be a compromise to avoid a difficult pelvic dissection. But it had to be better than what I’d been doing for 12 years, so in January 2012, I underwent the procedure – my third bowel operation.

“My partner Lisa and I had to work around it. She has been so fantastic and understanding – she says that whatever happens, we’ll deal with it.

“I’m also extremely lucky that, despite many operations that meant lengthy spells off work, I have a boss who has been so supportive since I joined the company in 1994.

“My ileostomy was then reversed after three months. Now I don’t have a system for creating solid stools – I only produce liquid which is highly acidic. But whilst I will never be cured and this, in turn, has given me a different set of problems to overcome, it’s been absolutely life-changing.

“It’s easier to take my children swimming. I don’t have to worry if the bag is going to split at an undesirable time. I can take my t-shirt off because I no longer have a stoma. I don’t have to spend two hours at a time every day in the loo – or ‘my office’ as I used to call it.”

Mike has remained committed to supporting research into bowel conditions 

Mike and Lisa were engaged in January 2014. And for his 50th birthday three months later, Mike decided to ask friends for donations to Bowel & Cancer Research in lieu of presents.

“I wanted to give something back and help contribute to the National Bowel Research Centre which is dedicated to world-leading research into bowel disorders.

“It is tremendously important that awareness is raised and that the stigma attached to bowel disease is tackled and the issue is talked about.

“Living with these conditions can have a significant emotional and social impact on you and those around you: constant pain, watching what you eat and drink all the time, the worry and stress of dealing with medication, hospitals and surgery, trying to live as normal a life as possible as well as holding down a job which involves travelling abroad.

I cannot thank Professor Williams, Professor Knowles and the team at the Royal London Hospital enough for all they have done and for the support they continue to show me.

Mike Bruce at The Royal London

“I don’t feel bitter about what happened to me. It has changed my life dramatically, both physically and on a day-to-day practical basis.

“The way I look at it, life throws things at you and you have to carry on.  I haven’t got a life-threatening disease but I have this condition for the rest of my life – it will never be fixed.

“That said, life for me and those around me has changed so much and I am hugely grateful for the surgical genius and the ongoing support that has enabled me to live my life as normally as possible.”