For David Gale, the term “go with your gut” certainly holds a different connotation. A bodybuilder since 1998, he’s always taken pride in being relatively healthy and impervious to injuries throughout the years. This time last year, however, he found himself in a terrifying, life-threatening situation while hiking with his wife through the Arizona mountains.
As he recalls it, he just “didn’t feel good”— and his symptoms weren’t letting up. From January to April of 2021, David experienced extreme gastric distress and weight loss, going from a solid 265lbs to 151 in a matter of mere months. “I was in the emergency room four times, and was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis,” he explains. As a result of his diagnosis, he was quickly rushed to a gastroenterologist, who didn’t waste a minute in prescribing a medication called Remicade (“Which can literally save your colon if you’ve got UC,” he notes). The thing was, while David waited for the medicine, he was getting sicker by the minute.
His wife urged him to go to the hospital, and what came next shocked everyone.
“I had to have an emergency laparotomy as my colon had ruptured open,” he shares. “The hospital said I was three hours from death as I was becoming septic.“ Doctors performed an emergency laparotomy, an extremely difficult abdominal surgery that allowed the removal of the colon, and ultimately, what saved David’s life.
The entire process was split into 3 total surgeries. After the colon removal, surgeons created an ileostomy (a surgical opening in the abdomen that allows time for the digestive system to heal) that remained in place for 10 weeks. But, his rollercoaster didn’t end there.
After those 10 weeks, doctors went in for another laparotomy, removing his rectum and creating what’s called a j-pouch (essentially a new rectum), and another new ileostomy. In October of 2021, just 8 weeks later, he went in for a third and final surgery, closing the ileostomy and activating the new pouch. David was severely underweight at this point, and as each of these surgeries were emergency procedures, not too long after surgery one of his bottom staples burst, exposing a 2-inch hole in his abdomen.
He’ll be honest— the healing process hasn’t been easy. “I have a ton of scar tissue that gets worked on weekly by an ART practitioner and I deal with intense, skin-pulling pain and bloating still due to abdominal weakness and diastasis recti (abdominal separation) that I’m working through. This is no cakewalk,” he warns. “Take your digestive health super seriously.”
The coming months were incredibly tough, and doctors warned that his healing would take upwards of a year from the point of the final surgery. Remember— David has always been an active guy, so when he was told that he wouldn’t be able to lift more than a mere 5lb dumbbell, he was shattered. But in the face of adversity, he stood up and rose to the challenge. He pounded glutamine and collagen and worked his way up from those 5lb dumbbells (no offense, pink fivers); getting stronger with every rep and sip. As of today, David is back up to 225 and stronger than ever.
“I am alive because of my wife’s love and my body’s resiliency from a life of training,” he admits.
Through David’s story, we want to emphasize the importance of gut health and encourage those with any digestive distress to seek an expert’s advice immediately. David’s strength and resiliency is truly an inspiration to us all, and we were lucky enough to learn a little more through a Q&A— check it out and follow his journey on social media below.
1. Clearly, Glutamine and Collagen were key in helping you to recover gut health and functionality. What other supportive foods or nutrients were (and are) beneficial for you to integrate?
2. For someone who has been so deep into bodybuilding for such a long time, what was the most challenging part about your recovery?
I think losing my own identity. For the longest time, I was known as the big, strong and jacked guy. To lose all my muscle in a short seven weeks was extremely rough mentally – lots of tears and for a short while, teetering on the edge of suicide. Using pink 5lb dumbbells is quite the humbling experience. [laughs]
3. It’s crucial to have a strong support system when you’re going through such a rollercoaster in your own skin, and I know your wife was a really large part of this. Who or what else kept you motivated through the adversity?
My wife and family have been extremely helpful and crucial to keeping me focused. I have a very strong and small group of friends as well that visited and kept me positive. I can’t say enough about the importance of positive people.
4. You mentioned you now have no restrictions. We can’t imagine that would be related to your diet. How has your lifestyle changed post-surgery?
Man, I can’t really cheat on my diet! Haha. My body responds really terribly to cheat food, alcohol, and caffeine now- all of [the] things I used to enjoy at times. Since the colon absorbs water, I have to be super careful about foods and drinks that increase fluid flying through my system. As far as workouts – really slow and steady. I’ve managed to put back on about 80 pounds so far, but it’s a slog.
5. Okay, fun question… what is your favorite exercise (or body part) to train? Has it changed at all pre vs. post-surgery?
I have always loved training legs. I was extremely lucky to have had some workouts with John Meadows before he [passed] as we are both Columbus Ohio natives – and I learned to destroy myself, especially on legs. Every Monday makes me smile as I know I’ll have to drag myself to the car after legs.
6. As of February 2020, it’s been estimated that about 1 million people in the United States have UC. What advice would you give to someone who has undergone a recent diagnosis?
Take healing seriously. I ignored my digestive issues for years and didn’t get a colonoscopy. If you feel any kind of weird in the gut, get some exploratory testing. If you are diagnosed, make good changes to your diet and start using glutamine in larger dosages. Try to keep anti-inflammatory foods coming as much as possible.
Also understand, it’s a real mental “f*ck you”— you will end up losing your identity along the way, and it’s important to remember who you are and why you are. Support is crucial.
7. Your healing is such an inspiration to us all! How can we continue to follow your journey?
Please check me out on Instagram- @the_jewnicorn_80!