Body & Fitness

Mt Maunganui woman’s five year ordeal without food: ‘I can finally eat again’

Brigitte Mouat was told she'd never eat again after a botched operation in 2007 and at one point her health was so dire, she was preparing for the end.
Brigitte Mouat

This Christmas-time brought extra joy to mum Brigitte Mouat.

For the first time in five years, she’s able to eat.

After half a decade avoiding the meals she loves but couldn’t digest, the self-described “foodie” was overjoyed to finally dig into a celebration spread!

“I was told I’d never eat food again,” says the Mt Maunganui local, 53, whose stomach stopped working in 2014 after a hernia operation.

“The fact I can eat now is a miracle and I can tuck into turkey and gravy, pavlova, custard and ice cream – all the delightful things.”

Unbelievably, seven weeks ago Brigitte was chronically ill in hospital with nasal and stomach tubes. She was hooked up to a machine 24/7 and unable to eat any food.

All she could cope with was one cup of coffee or coconut water a day.

Her health was so dire, she was preparing for the end.

She explains, “Doctors said there was nothing else they could do for me and they’d have to send me home on total parenteral nutrition [TPN – a food supplement injected into the vein].

Brigitte says, “It’s sort of end-of-life stuff because you can’t stay on it long-term.”

“Everything’s 10 times tastier than what I remember,” says the excited foodie.

Her journey started in 2007 when surgeons accidentally nicked her vagus nerve, which controls the digestive system.

“There’s no way to repair it and my stomach slowly stopped working,” she tells.

When doctors told her she’d never eat again, Brigitte cried.

“I still had to cook for my son Laytin [now 11] and I’d end up in tears because it was so hard to see and smell the food,” she recalls.

“I’d have leftovers, so I gave it to friends, but in the end they told me to stop because they were gaining weight!”

But cooking proved healing for Brigitte, who started taking meals to a local koha centre.

From there, she created Arms of Angels, a national food-gifting charity she still runs for families in need.

When the nail technician became so sick she had to quit her salon business, there were times she felt like giving up, but says,

“I’m a Christian and had people praying for my recovery, and I knew I had to hold on.”

Hooked up in hospital, all Brigitte could manage to keep down was a cup of coffee.

During many hospital stays, Brigitte had 19 tube changes, as well as infections and peritonitis – an inflammation of the abdominal lining that caused her hair to fall out.

She tells, “I was put into an unconscious state because the pain was so bad, and I needed physio to walk again.”

Her liver was in a bad way and her body wasn’t absorbing the nutrients it needed. Eventually, doctors had no more options.

“I didn’t accept it and asked to go to Auckland Hospital’s intestinal failure unit,” says Brigitte.

“I’d asked years before, but this time they finally said yes.”

When she arrived, medics wanted to insert another tube and attempt more surgery, but Brigitte declined.

“I had a feeling I was healed and asked them to do another test,” she says.

Four days later the results were shocking – her stomach was working normally.

“The doctors couldn’t believe it and said it was a miracle!”

As well as cooking for son Laytin, charitable Brigitte was feeding the needy – just

not herself.

Within three days she was sipping on shakes and keeping them down.

“Usually I’d be vomiting all day because nothing could pass through,” she tells.

“I rang Laytin and said, ‘Darling, I’m not going to have to be fed through my tube any more, I’ll be able to eat food.’ He replied, ‘That means we can go swimming!'”

The devoted mum hadn’t been in a pool for five years in fear of infection, and grins, “It’s opened a brand-new world for both of us.”

The first meal Brigitte cooked for herself was fresh snapper fried with salt and pepper, caught by a family friend.

She enthuses, “It was just beautiful! I love fish and it’s an absolute joy knowing I can eat it and won’t throw up, and that I’m getting the nutrition from it.”

With medication to get her bowels working again, Brigitte has been able to eat a range of foods.

“I’m still having nutritional shakes and bars, on top of mainly protein-based meals like fish, chicken, egg and soups,” she tells.

Of past seasonal feasts, she declares,

“Previous Christmases were really hard and I did a lot of preparing and clearing up to avoid being around food. I never sat around the table with everyone, so I’ve missed out quite a bit.”

With weekly visits from a dietitian, Brigitte’s careful to eat small amounts at a time as her stomach has shrunk.

“Everything’s 10 times tastier than what I remember and it’s great,” she gushes.

“It’s like being a kid and tasting foods for the first time – your taste buds are exploding!

“A few months ago, I’d have given anything to eat even the food I once hated. It goes to show you have to have faith things can get better.”

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