July 13, 2018 / All Stories

How Crohn’s disease motivated this student to create a style of her own

Leylah Oliphant faced a health challenge and matched it with her love of fashion.

Leylah Oliphant knows how to find the silver lining. Crohn’s disease might have sidelined her for a little while, but a change in perspective reinvigorated her dreams to pursue fashion design and styling. Here, we talk to her about growing up with Crohn’s and how she’s turned a negative into a positive. Interview edited for length and clarity.

Where do you go to school and what will you study?

I just finished community college and got accepted into the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), so I’ll be starting there in September and plan to study business economics. I’d like to start a business to help others – so maybe a fashion line for people with disabilities, something of that nature.

What inspires you to help others?

I have an inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease to be more specific. I was diagnosed at age 6, and I think part of my motivation in life, in school and for my career comes from me having Crohn’s disease. It makes me want to help others because I went through such a hard time as a kid, I want to help other kids realize that they’re not alone.

Leylah was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 6.

How did you find support growing up?

I was really involved with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA). They host a summer camp every year called Camp Oasis and I started going to camp when I was 9. At first, because I had episodes when I was a child, I was sheltered by my parents and leaving the home was so unnatural to me. Camp was the first time I felt okay about having Crohn’s. I still stay in touch with a lot of people from camp, actually.

How has your experience with Crohn’s fueled your career aspirations?

I’ve always loved fashion and putting outfits together, but my Crohn’s got very severe to where the only option left was to do surgery and I had to get an ostomy bag. After surgery, I didn’t know if I could wear the trendy new things that people my age were wearing like crop tops, bikinis and I just felt insecure. Because my doctors told me there was a chance of getting it off, my heart was set on that. I did take my bag off and the two years I didn’t have the bag, my quality of life was horrible and I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t hang out with my friends, I was in my bedroom or at the hospital and I just realized that I was looking at all the negatives for a very long time and I didn’t really look at the positives of having an ostomy bag. I think it was really hard for me to come to terms with the fact that I was going to have to live with a bag for the rest of my life. Last September, I had my bag put back on. In the last few months, I’ve gotten to experience life and live as a teenager. I finally embraced having an ostomy bag and I started picking out outfits and made them work with the bag. Now I sit down at my mom’s old sewing machine and sew different shirts to make clothes with the bag, but I think it can go further than that to help other girls with disabilities – either help by having a fashion line to meet their needs, or helping them see there are different ways to look good.

Leylah now embraces her chronic illness and designs clothes – including this t-shirt – for people with disabilities in mind.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I hope other girls with disabilities can know they’re not alone and just that even though there are downsides to having a disability, there are positives we can still embrace.

Oliphant is one of 2018-2019 recipients of the 2018 AbbVie Immunology Scholarship, created to honor exceptional students living with inflammatory diseases as they pursue goals of higher education. In addition to school, Oliphant is a fashion stylist for Wear on Wheels, which will be featured on an upcoming reality show. As part of the show, Oliphant hopes to raise awareness about fashion for people with disabilities and inspire others to have a better outlook on the challenges they face throughout their health journey.

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Jillian Griffin
Email: jillian.griffin@abbvie.com
Call: + 1 224-545-4122
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