New Milford resident’s foundation aims to raise ostomy awareness

NEW MILFORD — Bob Reiling began his trail of illness as a freshman at New Milford High School.

“I had overlapping symptoms of Crohn’s (disease) and ulcerative disease,” said Reiling, a lifelong New Milford resident who spent about four years in and out of the hospital as a teenager, with infections in his large intestine.

After Reiling’s intestine was removed at the age of 19, he went on to lead a healthy life and has recently created the Ostomy Awareness Foundation, an all-volunteer run nonprofit charity to spread awareness of the condition.

On Oct. 2, which is World Ostomy Day, there will be a New Milford River Run 5K and Kids’ Superhero Sprint as part of the town’s RiverFest, with proceeds going to support the cause. To sign up for the race, click here. Walkers are welcome as well.

Bringing awareness

According to the foundation’s website,, an ostomy is the end result of a surgical process that diverts the normal path for waste to exit the body through a new opening. There are three main types of ostomy: Colostomy, ileostomy and urostomy.

When Reiling was 18, his physicians gave him three options.

“I could try experimental medications, and that would give me a 25 percent chance of developing lymphoma cancer. I could do nothing and I’d probably die of colon cancer by the age of 30. Or, I could have the surgery to remove the diseased area and walk out of the hospital with an (ileostomy) bag,” said Reiling.

Though he initially had reservations, he chose the surgery.

Reiling, now 48, went on to lead a healthy, active life. He has four children ages 13 to 20 and works full time with the Ostomy Awareness Foundation.

It wasn’t until 2018 when he was officially diagnosed as having Crohn’s disease. It was also at the same time that he decided to spread the word about ostomy.

He began searching Facebook groups on ostomy and learned of a 10-year-old boy who had a bag and was bullied so much at school that he took his own life.

“My son was also 10 years old at the time,” Reiling said. “It couldn’t have hit home any closer. That forced me to get out of my comfort zone of being in the shadows.”

In the spring of 2020, Reiling began the process of establishing the foundation, which focuses on providing education, awareness and support to and for ostomates. The organization’s mission, as stated on the website, is “to advocate for ostomates and to educate and empower them to realize their full potential.”

The startup portion of the foundation was out of pocket, which included filing fees and licensing.

“In January, we took off,” he said.

The first big kickoff event of the foundation was its participation in the Connecticut Community Foundation’s Give Local Greater Waterbury and Litchfield Hills 36-hour online giving campaign.

This summer, the foundation received a donation “earmarked for a 5K fundraiser, so the organization immediately began planning for a 5K and connected with the New Milford RiverFest Committee to offer a 5K as part of RiverFest’s offerings,” said New Milford resident Deborah Rose, vice president of public relations for the foundation.

The foundation serves clients of all ages and from all stages of illness. To date, it has raised about $10,000 through grants, donations and fundraising.

Rose said some people who have an ostomy may be misinformed about the care for their condition or not have full knowledge of it.

“Some people are struggling. They think their life is over,” she said. “So, one of the goals that he really discovered was to change the mentality and be supportive to the people who are out there who have that negative viewpoint about this.”

This involves education on pre-education and post-education, continuing care after surgery, and the handling of mental and emotional stresses and stigmas.

The pandemic has led to an increase of virtual support groups for the condition, Reiling said.

The foundation is hoping to find a well-known figure to serve as a success story and role model for those who have the condition.

Additionally, the foundation is working with regional hospitals and health agencies to be a resource for patients on an ongoing basis, Rose said.

“We offer several programs, one of which is the Ostomates Wellness Care Program,” Rose said. “We will provide a gift duffle bag to ostomates that includes samples of products. The bags will be distributed to ostomates through the foundation’s established relationships with clinicians in the pre-op through post-op inpatient and outpatient departments at hospitals, as well as through health agencies and skilled care and rehabilitation centers.”

Reiling said local hospitals have about 30 to 50 patients who have ostomy surgery each month. He added 90 percent of them are considered temporary, where they would only need a bag for a short period of time.

“We really just want to raise awareness that anyone who has an ostomy is an average person and there are no limitations to it,” Rose said.