as family friend Missy Salaam washes her hands in the sink. The In-Stall-ation Project, made up
of photos that Wendy took of women’s feet in public restroom stalls, is to raise awareness of bowel diseases
such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis — which Jamie was diagnosed with as a teenager.
The humorous project’s motto is ‘Don’t let Crohn’s and colitis de-feet you!’
INSET BELOW: Some of the individual Polaroids in the exhibit.
Photos by Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Lona O'Connor
It was one of those lightbulb moments when Wendy Greenhut first took out her iPhone camera and aimed it at a pair of feet in the public bathroom stall next to her.
She continued to shoot photos of women’s feet, in airports, at bar mitzvahs, wherever she spotted them. Eventually she had a collection of about 200 photos, of fashion-forward shoes and sandals, brightly colored sneakers, always framed by bathroom stalls.
“Nobody knows I’m taking them,” said Greenhut. “Well, one person did.”
That woman was wearing a particularly fine pair of open-toed ankle boots, so Greenhut asked her to return to a stall for a photo. As they chatted, it turned out the woman had colitis.
Greenhut, who lives in Delray Beach with her husband, Doug, has been active in the local chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America since her daughter Jamie was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis as a teenager.
She was always on the lookout for creative ways to explain the disease.
Jamie had to give up drama and other high school activities because of flare-ups that sometimes sent her to the hospital.
Some of their friends understood, but many did not.
Colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases make digestion a nightmare. Sufferers cannot derive nutrients from the food they eat. Unless their ulcerative colitis can be controlled by surgery and other treatments, they spend hours every day in the bathroom. Because it is a disorder of the autoimmune system, they are vulnerable to infections.
Since none of this is visible to anyone else, inflammatory bowel disorders are often called “ghost diseases.”
So Greenhut launched her “In-Stall-ation Project,” an exhibit of her foot photos, at the Polaroid Fotobar in suburban Delray Beach last month. The photos were displayed in the gallery’s bathroom, of course.
“She drew a lot of inspiration from something that’s intrinsically negative,” said Jamie Greenhut, who had her colon removed and is now managing her colitis. A junior at the Savannah College of Art and Design, she incorporates her illness into improv and comedy routines.
“I get that from my mom,” said Jamie Greenhut. “To explain something serious or upsetting in a way that is also entertaining. It’s not a problem that can be seen when you look at me, so I tell people straight up that I’m missing a major organ, my colon.”
Besides fundraising work, Wendy Greenhut has become an ally for families of children with inflammatory bowel diseases, which can take years to get under control.
During Jamie’s hospitalizations, Greenhut introduced herself to other mothers — the ones who looked lost and overwhelmed.
“It helps to talk to somebody who’s been there,” said Wendy Greenhut.
It’s not uncommon for people with inflammatory bowel disease to suffer in silence, so Greenhut’s efforts, from offering moral support to staging zany photo shows, are vital, said Lawrence Adams, the West Palm Beach gastroenterologist who treated Jamie Greenhut and who also works with the foundation.
“Many people do a whole lot for their kids, and then there are special people who do a lot for other people,” he said. “I can count on one hand the parents who get involved and stay involved. Jamie’s mom has been a real trouper.”
Adams sees Greenhut’s bathroom photos as “creative marketing. She’s created a campaign to get people’s attention. That’s the whole point of the bathroom thing. It’s a pretty smart idea.”
For information about inflammatory bowel diseases, visit ccfa.org.
Lona O’Connor has a lifelong interest in health and healthy living. Send column ideas to Lona13@bellsouth.net.