Crohn's and Crochet: One Woman's Creative Journey With IBD

by Stephanie Stephens Health Writer

When you check out Nadia Fuad's blog at YARNutopia, whether you crochet or not, you'll have an instant appreciation for the art — and for her. The “little idea that could” has blossomed into a truly rewarding career, with the blog counting 10,000 followers, her Facebook page showing 50,000, and YouTube amassing nearly 240,000. It's clear this woman has a calling when it comes to crocheting.

All this, and Nadia, 28, lives with a very severe form of Crohn's disease. When we say "lives," she really lives. In a conversation with HealthCentral, she explains why and how.

HealthCentral (HC): What is your history with Crohn’s disease?

Nadia: I was diagnosed at 16 and had been admitted to the hospital with a flare and an infection. It was hard at that age because kids at my school would start hurtful rumors about me being anorexic because of all my weight loss due to Crohn's.

Doctors first thought it was ulcerative colitis, [another form of inflammatory bowel disease] but did lots more testing. I ultimately had surgery to remove my large intestine and part of my small intestine, then two temporary ileostomies and then a permanent one — I have an ostomy bag. Doctors closed up my "bottom."

I worried from the beginning about whether I could have a career, a full-time job. I had wanted to go pre-med, and then I wanted to be a nurse. Eventually, I knew I couldn't go on that way — too many surgeries and medical withdrawals. I started college six times, but stress aggravated everything, and I was just too sick to go to school and stay there.

I saw so many doctors in Wisconsin, where I grew up. I lived in Texas for some time, helping to take care of my grandparents. Most doctors there said I was one of the worst cases they had ever seen.

HC: What are you doing for treatment now? You sound so vibrant and enthusiastic.

Nadia: Now I see doctors at the University Hospital, Madison, part of the University of Wisconsin. It's a teaching hospital, and I think they are miracle workers, so many people all working together to figure out my case. I've been doing really well for about a year. I'm taking the biologic Stelara (ustekinumab). The other medications I took — I became refractory and developed antibodies that rejected those drugs. I haven't been in the hospital overnight for an entire year!

It's great because I got married in March, and my husband, Nate, and I do everything together. He's a nature person, and we go on hikes and we travel. He's so supportive, and I am so lucky to have found someone who could understand this illness, and he knew nothing about it when we first met. I told him, "I have Crohn's disease, and I have an ostomy that fills with poop. If you're not cool with that, then we have to reassess this." He was more concerned, actually, and he knew that I didn't want pity. He's so cute, curious, and caring, and he loves and supports YARNutopia. He even models a lot of my crocheted pieces!

HC: How did you get into crocheting, and how does it relate to your Crohn’s disease?

Nadia: I was in the hospital with Crohn's for months on end, with nothing to do but look at the clock. When I was 18, my mom brought me a ball of yarn and a crochet hook and said, "You're not going to just lie there. You need to accomplish something. Look at some YouTube videos and learn how to do this." And then, pun totally intended, I was "hooked!”

Nadia Fuad in the hospital and crocheting.
Nadia Fuad

HealthCentral: You've built an empire — or the start of one. What’s that like for you?

Nadia: I am so addicted to crocheting. I have made almost anything I wanted to: blankets, scarves, dresses, ponchos, hats, baby items, stuffed toys. If I didn't have YARNutopia, I would still crochet!

But remember: I am the face, the teacher, and crafter of YARNutopia, but there's a whole team behind this. There's my mom, Shannon, and my dad, Fuad. My dad has been a photographer and videographer for more than 20 years — how convenient for what we do! And my mom is the marketing manager who does the administrative work. Every design, she drew it up. And she writes, too. Most important, I thank her every day that she introduced this craft to me. Yes, she knows how to crochet, but she doesn't do it now.

My two older brothers, Nyle and Nabeel, have been incredibly supportive of me, especially when I was sick for so long and all the family attention was on me. Sometimes I felt like I ruined family holidays, but they never made me feel that way.

Nadia Fuad

HC: What are the best pieces of advice you have for anyone with Crohn's — or who's living with a disease that impacts their life the way Crohn's has impacted yours?

Nadia: It's always in the back of my mind that there can be a flare. It's happened before, when I was doing so wonderfully one day, and the next day, I was in the hospital having surgery. But I don't live in fear now, and I know it sounds so cliché, but I say live every day, every moment, to the fullest. If you are feeling good and healthy that day, take advantage of that. Always keep the ones who are closest to you close to you. They're going to help you and support you when you need it most.

Go meet Nadia on her website, YARNutopia, or follow her on Etsy, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

[Interview has been lightly edited for clarity.]

Stephanie Stephens
Meet Our Writer
Stephanie Stephens

Stephanie Stephens is a very experienced digital journalist, audio/video producer and host who covers health, healthcare and health policy, along with celebrities and their health, for a variety of publications, websites, networks, content agencies and other distinctive clients. Stephanie was accepted to THREAD AT YALE for summer 2018 to author and produce an investigative series. She is also active in the animal welfare community.