A New Avenue of Support for Ostomy Patients

Living with an ostomy isn’t always easy, but with the help of specialized nurses and support of fellow ostomates, a successful recovery is possible.




For many, the creation of an ostomy is a life-saving surgery. When surgeons treat certain diseases of the digestive or urinary systems, the surgery may affect or change their elimination or urination. In those cases, the surgeon will create an ostomy, or an opening in the abdominal area which allows a small part of the small or large intestine, referred to as a stoma, from inside the body to the outside. The stoma may be permanent, when an organ must be removed, or it may be temporary, when the organ needs time to heal. 

There are many different types of ostomies, the most common being ileostomy, colostomy and urostomy.  An ileostomy involves the small intestine (ileum) in order to bypass the colon, rectum and anus. A colostomy involves the colon or large intestine, bypassing the rectum and the anus. In a urostomy, a piece of the small intestine is used to re-route the tubes which carry urine from the kidneys, bypassing the bladder. 

As you can imagine, ostomy surgery changes the life of the patient and their loved ones. To help them make the adjustments necessary for the best quality of life possible, Saint Barnabas Medical Center offers a comprehensive ostomy management program for patients undergoing a colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy. Led by specially trained and board-certified ostomy nurses, the program provides:

  • Individualized pre-operative and post-operative education and training.
  • Stoma siting.
  • Managing of ostomy complications including hernias and fistulas.
  • Answers to questions about ostomy management.

Pre-operative, one-on-one training results in shorter hospital stays and improves patients’ outcomes and satisfaction following surgery, says Sandra  Johansen, R.N., program director of the Inpatient Wound and Ostomy Program at Saint Barnabas Medical Center. “We see patients pre-operatively to help ease concerns about surgery, the unknown about living with an ostomy,” 

Johansen says. “Our nurses find the best spots on the abdomen to possibly place the ostomy and in some cases, where to avoid placing the ostomy. This can ensure the best possible management of both the ostomy and the lifestyle modifications that come with it.” 

The certified nurses teach patients what to expect, what an ostomy is, how to care for their skin and change their pouch. “Patients come back to the Out-patient Ostomy Clinic to be seen by the nurses again after surgery,” she says. “As the ostomy shrinks, they are refitted for new appliances and taught how to manage issues like leakage or skin irritation.” Support resources provide patients with referrals to product suppliers and social support networks. 

A support group meets the second Thursday of every month, from 3 to 4 p.m., at the Medical Center. Nurses, social workers and ostomates talk about many issues such as diet, sex and traveling with an ostomy.

MEET THE TEAM

The Inpatient Wound and Ostomy Program at Saint  Barnabas Medical Center includes the following Certified Wound and Ostomy Nurses, from left to right: Stacy Krakower, Sandra Johansen, Kristin Gellner and Elizabeth Vocaturo, along with  Catherine Fahey (not  pictured).

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