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When COVID-19 lockdowns were causing the cancellation of events and gigs around the world, up-and-coming Townsville country music star Brooke ‘Josie’ Roberts thought life couldn’t get much worse.
But then – as restrictions were lifted and she was finally able to be on stage again – Josie began suffering debilitating symptoms which made it impossible for her to perform.
“I was always so sick and had lost so much weight – I had ulcers in my mouth, I was fatigued, and just had the most random symptoms,” Josie said.
“I was in Tamworth for the Country Music Festival when I was at my worst – I looked malnourished, I couldn’t do anything, and had to finish gigs early or cancel them completely.
“I went to so many doctors before one referred me to a gastroenterologist who got me into Mater Private Hospital Townsville the very next day for a colonoscopy and endoscopy.”
Josie was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel autoimmune disease, while still in her final year of high school.
Now 21, Josie said having a diagnosis and effective treatment plan with Mater had helped her life return to normal – and given her the chance to purse her dream as a singer-songwriter.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was on a few different medications and coming to the Mater for treatments all the time – but now I’m coming in once every eight weeks for an Infliximab infusion and that’s all I’m taking. I really don’t have to watch what I eat or anything too closely.
“It’s meant I can get back to performing and living my life – and made it possible for me to properly focus on my songwriting.
“I’ve been playing pub gigs for the past six years, but always in the back of my mind I had my own songs that I had written and wanted to perform. I wanted to pull away from just doing cover gigs and to play proper Josie gigs.”
Josie released her debut single, Down Here, in June this year.
“It’s still so surreal to see people genuinely loving and supporting my own original music and hearing it on so many different radio stations around Australia and the world,” Josie said.
“My infusion nurses at Mater – they’re normally the same ones every time – have always been such huge supporters and my favourite nurse is also named Josie!
“Josie was actually there for my very first infusion three years ago and has been by my side ever since – she always tells me that she sees my music posts on Facebook and is so proud. When I told her I was releasing my own music she was literally crying with happiness.
“When I was last in for an infusion, she played my music video on the TV in the ward and was going into the other bays saying, ‘This girl is in here with us today, she’s right here in the next room!’ It was so beautiful.”
Mater Private Hospital Townsville General Manager Stephanie Barwick said autoimmune diseases were in many cases invisible to the public.
“Autoimmune diseases are one of the most significant chronic health problems in Australia, with one in 20 people affected,” Ms Barwick said.1
“While the causes are unknown, many are treatable once they are diagnosed. Mater Private Hospital Townsville’s day infusions unit welcomes a broad range of patients, from those battling an autoimmune disease to those receiving treatment for cancer and other conditions.
“The day infusion unit is available to any patient referred by a Mater specialist. The team are dedicated to patients, often following them for their treatment journeys and forming close connections.”
Josie said her message to those suffering was simple.
“It can be difficult to fight an invisible battle, but I would encourage anyone who either has been diagnosed or suspects they have symptoms to keep pushing and keep going to the doctor until you have answers.
“I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing if I gave up. If you fight hard enough, you can change your life.”
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