Whangarei woman with rare gastroparesis dismissed by doctors

Ruby Hill fought for her diagnosis for two years.
Ruby Hill fought for her diagnosis for two years. Photo credit: Supplied.

On Friday, 23-year-old Whangarei woman Ruby Hill was sent home from hospital to die.

A rare, incurable condition called Gastroparesis has paralysed her stomach since 2015, meaning nutrients from food stopped absorbing into her body.

She was discharged from hospital after medical professions exhausted all available treatment options, with no success.

Gastroparesis is caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which usually controls contractions of the stomach muscle, pushing food into the small intestine.

Ms Hill weighs only 35kgs after losing almost half of her bodyweight from the condition, and has been severely malnourished and dehydrated multiple times in the past few years.

In September 2015, Ms Hill was admitted to hospital for what seemed to be an early case of appendicitis.

In 2014 Ruby was fit, healthy and happy.
In 2014 Ruby was fit, healthy and happy. Photo credit: Supplied.

She was just weeks away from her dream of becoming a licensed pilot but in the days following what seemed like a routine appendix removal surgery, Ms Hill's health severely worsened.

"I couldn't keep food down, I was just vomiting up everything I was trying to eat," she told Newshub.

Multiple trips to the hospital, the message from medical professionals seemed to be the same - she was making herself sick.

"They told me it was all in my head, that I was anorexic and depressed.

"I knew the whole time that I wasn't but after months of doctors saying 'work with us, you're doing this to yourself,' you begin to start doubting your sanity.

Now, four years on, Ms Hill is making a last attempt at life; this time in Canada.

She said doctors in New Zealand had exhausted their efforts with the little-researched condition.

"My body just kept rejecting feed," she explained, noting that they'd tried eight times to keep a nasal tube in place, each time it had coiled back into her stomach or been vomited up and had to be removed.

New Zealand doctors have exhausted their treatment options.
New Zealand doctors have exhausted their treatment options. Photo credit: Supplied.

She says cannabis products are the only thing that has provided her with relief through the constant pain she endures.

"The only treatments in New Zealand are opioid medications but I had severe reactions to everything they tried to put me on."

She has been given a prescription to use a small amount of medicinal cannabis, but it comes at a huge cost.

"It's about $500 for 25ml, which lasts me between 6 and 10 days," she says.

Canada legalised marijuana for medical use in 2001, and Ms Hill hopes travelling there will give her more freedom to use the drug in ways not yet available in New Zealand.

"I'll be able to do a lot more because there's more freedom there to play around with the effects of cannabis products that aren't available in New Zealand.

"I started researching clinics in Canada a couple of years ago and it became more and more appealing to me to get over there, it's ticking something off my bucket list."

Doctors have cleared her for travel, but Ms Hill says she was told she'd have to go as soon as possible to minimise the risks of such a long-haul flight.

A Givealittle page was set up on Sunday to help with travel and medical costs, and has raised over $20,000.

Ms Hill says she's humbled by the support from friends, family, and complete strangers.

"I'm speechless. The generosity of people is the reason why I continue to put one foot in front of the other; I feel the love so much."

Her mother, Jo Hill, intends to travel with Ruby to Canada, and says the generosity of the donations has been "phenomenal".

She said she was incredibly proud of her daughter for fighting through the misdiagnoses and the illness itself.

"I have seen her suffer through unimaginable things but she's always stayed a strong, intelligent, articulate young woman.

"Some days we would get home from the hospital and I would be exhausted and Ruby, who had been through so much more, was still strong and still fighting."

Ruby Hill in hospital in 2018.
Ruby Hill in hospital in 2018. Photo credit: Supplied.

She said it was especially hard fighting against medical professionals who refused to believe Ms Hill before she was diagnosed.

"The biggest frustration was that Ruby stayed so articulate through all of it yet it still took them so long before anyone believed her."

Ms Hill says she wants more research done into the condition so that nobody else in her position has to fight so hard to be heard.

She says any surplus funds from the Givealittle page will go towards Gastroparesis research.

And while there is no cure yet for the condition, Ms Hill remains hopeful that treatments in Canada will help her.

"I want to take any chance I have to live another day."


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