In 1999, Bluffton resident Harvey Shatz had an ostomy surgery.
His large intestine couldn't safely process waste, and the procedure prevented a potentially life-threatening situation.
For the past 15 years, he's had an ostomy bag attached to him, to collect his waste.
"It's an ugly operation," Shatz said. "You don't know what your life is going to be like. All you know is you had surgery and you have a bag on you and you don't know how to handle it."
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Shortly after his ostomy, Shatz was talked into joining a support group. He didn't really want to go, saying he was still in denial of his new lifestyle.
Unbeknownst to Shatz, he sat next to the group's president, who leaned over and asked Shatz if he wanted to hear a joke, immediately making light of the situation.
Shatz went on to lead his own support group in New Jersey, which 60 to 70 people at the monthly meeting. Now, Shatz leads the Low Country Ostomy Group, a support group for people with ostomies, their caregivers, medical professionals and the general public.
The group has been active in Beaufort County since Shatz moved to Bluffton three years ago. But with low turnout, meetings moved from being held monthly to quarterly. Now Shatz is more optimistic about participation because of support from Hilton Head Hospital and a new meeting spot at the Bluffton Medical Campus. The first meeting at the new site will be at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 14.
Shatz understands why people might not want to come a support group. After all, he didn't want to at first either. There's often embarrassment over an ostomy -- or denial. But Shatz wants to help create a dialogue about ostomies; he emphasizes the need for those affected to participate.
"I suspect in this area, there are at least 100 (people with) ostomies," Shatz said. "A lot of times people only come when they have a problem. I want them to understand that if they come, they could support someone who's going through what they went through."
The procedure changed Shatz's life, but he always remembers it did something far more important.
"It didn't ruin my life, it saved it," Shatz said. "People think it's a guy with a bag and he smells bad, but that's not true. We are all human beings, and we're all involved in life. None of us were happy about this, and none of us are. But we're alive and we're healthy."
Follow Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.