In 2018, Debra’s life took a sudden and dramatic turn with a sudden health crisis that led to an unexpected ileostomy surgery. While her journey was challenging, she navigated her way through it all with determination, faith, and the support of her family. Today, she’s found confidence with her ileostomy. She wants to share her story in the hope that it may help someone else dealing with a health crisis of their own.
A Health Crisis Out of Nowhere
Fresh from a road trip across the United States with her husband, Debra felt healthy at 66 years old in the fall of 2018. Then one day, during one of her daily two-mile walks, something changed. She only got about a half-block away from her house when she realized she didn’t feel very good. “I was hardly moving, but my heart rate was 165.”
She made it back home and called urgent care, and they advised her that she should probably come in. “My husband was playing cards at the senior center, and I didn’t want to bother him, so I hopped in my car and drove myself to urgent care, which was probably not a wise thing to do,” says Debra.
Almost as soon as the PA (Physician Assistant) saw her, they suggested she go to the hospital emergency room as quickly as possible. Once Debra got to the ER, the hospital staff was ready and waiting as soon as she arrived.
A series of tests, including X-rays and CT scans, exposed what was going on with Debra. Her colon was swollen so large that it was pushing against her heart. The doctor told Debra that she likely would’ve died if she hadn’t come in. And there was even more shocking news. Debra would need to have ileostomy surgery.
“On the day of the surgery, I had my husband and daughter there with me. Before I went into surgery, I was very calm because my faith was in God. I just prayed and said, ‘Lord, I know you can heal me right now if you want to, or you can heal me by taking me home.'”
Challenges During Recovery After Ileostomy Surgery
Recovering post-surgery was anything but a cakewalk. “I was in the hospital for 16 days,” says Debra, “and during those 16 days, I had to have a pickline put in because I kept throwing up and couldn’t eat.”
Plus, she wasn’t sure how to care for her ostomy. While in the hospital, her ostomy nurses provided ileostomy bags and supplies and showed her what they did as they changed her pouches. However, Debra never got hands-on experience while in the hospital.
Transitioning to a rehabilitation nursing facility after being released from the hospital brought its own challenges. “In the rehab, it was kind of a nightmare because I wasn’t sure of what to do on my own, and none of the aides or nurses knew how to change my pouch,” says Debra. She felt isolated and unsupported.
Debra also lost a large amount of weight in a short amount of time. Then she fractured her L2 vertebrae in her back, and her incision opened up after she got home. She went through severe infections and more.
A ray of hope emerged when Debra connected with a compassionate woman named Lois Fink, the author of “Courage Takes Guts: Lessons Learned From a Lost Colon.” Through this new friendship, she got the support and information she needed.
“This sweet lady has been my friend and mentor for the last five years,” says Debra. “She came to visit me in the rehab and told me how to go about ordering supplies. She answered every question I had. She also has an ileostomy and has had it for the last 35 years.”
Finding the Right Ileostomy Supplies with 180 Medical
Getting the right products can be daunting for someone new to an ostomy. Luckily, Debra transitioned from another ostomy supply company to 180 Medical. With 180 Medical, Debra discovered a wide range of Convatec ostomy products that helped restore her confidence and sense of freedom.
After trying and exploring various popular ostomy brands, Debra figured out that she faced fewer challenges and felt more confident using Convatec products. “I tried several brands, but I found that Convatec fit me best, and I had fewer problems.”
Through 180 Medical, Debra’s ostomy experience transformed. “I remember the first time I used Hy-Tape. I went swimming for the first time in years. I was standing in the pool, crying tears of happiness.”
Debra appreciates the positive, caring interactions she’s had with the 180 Medical team, as well as the convenience and reliability of our shipments. She receives a three-month supply of her ostomy products on a regular schedule, and she feels confident to tackle an active life again.
“The supplier you use really makes a difference,” says Debra.
Debra’s Tips for People with Ostomies
Although Debra says things are much easier and better today, she knows firsthand how difficult living with an ostomy can be at first. She has shared a few tips she learned along the way, which she hopes will help anyone new to facing life with an ileostomy, colostomy, or urostomy.
1. Stay Calm.
“One of the biggest pieces of advice I could give people new to their ostomy is to stay calm. When I started doing my own pouch changes, it wasn’t easy at first. It took practice. But if I let myself get upset, it just got worse,” says Debra.
In other words, don’t let yourself get too upset as you’re adjusting to living with your ostomy.
Debra recalls, “I remember sitting with my husband the night before I got discharged, and I had one panic attack after another, and it just felt like, oh, I’m not going to be able to do this, I’m not going to be able to do it. And so I just thought, I can’t stay here for my whole life. It took time and some challenges, but I got to a point where I just realized, okay, I am capable. Very capable. And I can handle this.”
Remind yourself you can handle this!
2. Accept Life’s Messiness.
Ostomy leaks don’t have to be the norm, but they do still happen sometimes.
“Having an ostomy can be messy,” says Debra. “Well, life is messy too.” She says it’s easiest not to focus too much on the mess. Just clean up and keep moving forward.
However, remember, you can always find ostomy products that may help reduce the risk of ostomy leakage. Talk to 180 Medical’s Ostomy Specialists to find the right products for your needs.
3. Be Your Own Health Advocate.
During her stay in the hospital and the nursing facility afterward, Debra encountered several situations that reminded her of the importance of self-advocacy.
“I want to urge people to know that they need to be their own advocate or have somebody close to them who will advocate for them. You can’t allow people, even doctors and nurses, to treat you a certain disrespectful way when you know it’s wrong.”
4. Find Support.
“One thing that stands out about my time during recovery is that I felt like I didn’t have a whole lot of help. It’s easy for me now. It’s very easy. But I feel for anybody new to going through this because they need support above anything else. I’ve been lucky to have a great husband who supported me through all this. But there were days during that period when I felt angry. I felt defeated and depressed for a while. But I managed to get through it with support,” says Debra.
180 Medical’s Ostomy Specialists can offer a listening ear and help with finding the right products. In addition, we can connect our customers to a team of certified ostomy nurses who can help with bigger medical questions and support needs.
Debra also recommends a few books for those with ostomies who enjoy reading. “I would recommend Lois Fink’s book and any of Rolf Benirschke’s books, starting with ‘Alive and Kicking.’ I also have a subscription to The Phoenix Ostomy Magazine. It’s a great publication with all kinds of tips and tricks and great advertising for new products that can make an ostomate’s life better.”
5. Never Give Up.
“I’m here to tell anyone who thinks they don’t want to live if they have an ostomy, do not give up,” says Debra. “Your life is not over, and you can live a happy, fulfilling life!”
Embracing Life and Gaining Confidence with an Ileostomy
Today, at 70 years old, Debra is a beacon of positivity and resilience. Her ostomy hasn’t deterred her adventurous spirit. She continues to travel, hike, swim, and walk regularly.
Debra wants people to know that life doesn’t end with an ostomy. In fact, it can be the start of a whole new chapter. With the right support, ostomy products, and mindset, the sky is the limit.
As Debra candidly shares, “All my close friends know I have an ostomy. It’s just not a big deal.” And for those who might find it awkward? Debra’s stoma, fondly named Wynonna Burp, might just get a chuckle out of you.
When it comes to living with an ileostomy, Debra believes laughter is some of the best medicine. After a life-threatening health crisis and a long road to recovery after her ileostomy surgery, her determination and courage were also a big part of overcoming those obstacles.
Debra’s story is proof that no matter your age or the challenges in your way, you can still live a full life with your ostomy.