Meet the couple whose romance blossomed when they found a shared connection - over their stoma bags.

Claire Newman, 26, and boyfriend Lewis Woollard, 24, who met online, both have Ulcerative Colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The pair first crossed paths on Instagram in August 2023, where they both posted about their IBD journeys.

A couple of months later, they now live together and even help change each other's bags during bad flare-ups.

Claire was diagnosed aged 11, after going to the loo “50 times” a day and losing blood.

She had a stoma bag fitted in December 2019, after the medication she had been taking for 10 years stopped working.

Lewis, a refrigeration engineer, was diagnosed in June 2023 after first noticing some blood in his stool after a night out.

He didn’t respond to any treatment and five weeks later, also had a stoma bag fitted.

After bonding over their joint condition online, the couple, who live in Newbury, Berkshire, said it was “love at first sight” on their first meeting.

They now run a joint Instagram page about how they help each other with their condition- including changing each other stoma bags.

Claire, who isn't currently working, said: “Neither of us have never dated someone who also has an IBD.

"I feel like we're really lucky - sharing our experiences online helped us meet.

“I’ve had the condition a lot longer than Lewis, so I’m able to help him.

“We even help change each other's stoma bags when we’re having a particularly rough day.

“He makes me feel so confident – we walk around without bags around each other and get each other."

Claire, who used to work in a nursery, has suffered from IBD for over 15 years after first being diagnosed at the beginning of secondary school.

She experienced severe bullying after medication, including steroids, left her with a puffy face.

Claire responded well to a Infliximab infusion, medication administered via a drip, which she would get weekly to control the inflammation in her bowel.

However in 2019, Claire's grandad passed away, and she believes the stress contributed to a bad flare-up.

The medication stopped working, and doctors at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, had no choice but to remove her bowel and replace it with a stoma.

She said: "I had a hard time with bullies and missed a lot of school because of hospital appointments.

"I used to work in a nursery but my immune system is too weak, so I had to quit.

"It makes meeting people and dating really difficult."

Claire created an Instagram page to share her IBD journey and detail adapting to life with a stoma bag.

At August 2023, she got a message from Lewis, who had only recently been diagnosed.

In June 2022, Lewis noticed blood in his stool ''for a few days'' and was experiencing bad stomach pain.

He was eventually referred for a colonoscopy at Basingstoke Hospital where doctors diagnosed him IBD.

Unfortunately, he didn't respond to any medication and had a stoma bag fitted five weeks later.

Lewis said: "I had never even heard of Ulcerative Colitis when I got diagnosed.

"It was a shock and huge life adjustment getting used to the bag.

"That's when I met Clare online and we started chatting.

"She has had the condition for years and I really turned to her for advice.

"We hit it off and decided to meet."

Claire travelled from Portsmouth to see Lewis in Newbury, Berkshire, for dinner and they instantly "fell" for each other.

In a matter of months, Claire moved in with Lewis, and the pair now help each other with their conditions on a daily basis.

Lewis said: "We both had good and bad days,

“Sometimes we’ll be out, and both have a flare-up, which no one else understands.

"It leaves you running to find a loo and in pain.

“It can make going out for the day or even on a date difficult.

"Luckily, we have a key that gets us into any disabled toilet, which we use if we're cute short.

"Being with someone else going through the same thing has been amazing – Clare completely gets me.”

In October 2020 Claire's IBD worsened and medics were forced to remove her rectum - meaning her stoma bag is now irreversible.

The couple are taking "each day as it comes" and hope for a ''bright future'' together.

Clare said: "It's called an invisible disease - so a lot of people don't understand the pain we experience.

“But we get it and can be completely ourselves around each other.

"For now, we're taking it day by day and enjoying being together."

They share their journey on Instagram: @the_stoma_couple