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On May 2, 2011, I had permanent ileostomy surgery after four years of battling Crohn's disease. I was 22-years-old. My first experience with a Wound, Ostomy and Continence nurse was at a preoperative appointment for my stoma site marking. I didn’t even know what a WOC nurse was, let alone how lucky I was to be meeting with her. But during those first few days of recovery, I figured out very quickly that she was my lifeline. I tried to listen closely and remember everything she taught me in the hospital, but between the pain and nausea, I went home feeling overwhelmed.

My home health nurse, Zora Hocking, is a WOC nurse and was there for me right away. She taught me and my family how to care for my wounds — it was a long and slow process of healing. I was 95 pounds and 5'8" tall. Zora stressed the importance of nutrition to help me heal faster. I kept having leaks under the wafer and mentally felt like I was falling apart. Zora switched me to a different pouching system (the system I still use to this day) and found ostomy products that worked better on my body. Something as simple as stopping the leaks gave me a huge boost in confidence. I could now leave the house without fear for the first time and go to my appointments. Slowly but surely, I adjusted to life with an ostomy, gained some weight, got discharged from home care, and was able to return to work.

Over the next few years, I went back to school to complete my prerequisites for nursing school and also became pregnant with my first baby. Thankfully, I had no complications during pregnancy or delivery but about six months later my stoma retracted. I started having leaks and had to change my pouch every 12 hours. There were no outpatient WOC nurses in my area and I didn’t know what to do, so I called Zora for help. After one visit she knew I needed to see my surgeon for a stoma revision. So, the day after taking my final exam in anatomy class, I went in for a procedure which turned into a bowel resection with a new stoma site! Zora was there for me again, helping me get up and running within two weeks so I could start summer chemistry classes. I still had steri-strips on my stomach covering up the incisions, but I made it.

Soon after, I became an official nursing student. The most rewarding experience I had in nursing school was taking care of a new ostomate. My patient was a young man who would not even look at his stoma or acknowledge it was there. He was struggling with acceptance. I asked him if he wanted to know what I liked about having an ostomy. In that moment his eyes came to life. “You mean you have an ostomy?” he asked. I nodded and smiled. “But I couldn’t even tell,” he said. “And nobody will be able to tell you have one either,” I responded. Just knowing he wasn’t alone was enough. By the end of my shift he was emptying his pouch independently. That experience lit a fire inside me. I knew that I had found my passion. 

After graduating, I had my second baby girl and went to work as a registered nurse. The thought of more school to become certified in ostomy care seemed out of reach. I had two young daughters to think of, who by the way, were my precious little ostomy helpers. Sometimes they'd even put on a pouch to “look like mommy." Several years passed by before I experienced a severe relapse of Crohn’s. On top of this, my stoma was retracting again and I had to have another bowel resection and revision surgery. Once more, Zora was by my side, helping me adjust to yet another stoma in yet another location.

I've had my ileostomy for almost 15 years now and the same WOC nurse has taken care of me the entire time. Seeing Zora is like seeing an old friend. She has coached me through a very long journey. If I hadn't received encouragement from some amazing nurses, I would've never had my children and I wouldn't have continued with school. In August 2016, I will graduate with a Masters in Nursing from the University of San Francisco and start the WOC Nursing Program immediately afterward. My area of practice is long-term care of ostomy patients because life with a stoma doesn't end after we leave the hospital. Without WOC nurses, there would be no support for ostomates like myself. Patients need competent ongoing care and deserve access to a Wound, Ostomy and Continence nurse. Nothing less will do. 

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