World Ostomy Day

Ostomy Patients Have Important Ally in Albany Med Team

When she found out that “Let’s be Heard” was the theme for this year’s World Ostomy Day (Oct. 6), Jody Scardillo, RN, says she was thrilled.  Scardillo has been trying to raise awareness and remove the stigma of ostomy since she began working with ostomy patients at Albany Med 20 years ago.

“There is a lot of fear and misunderstanding among patients and families about this procedure.  But the reality is you can have a very fulfilling life after ostomy surgery,” says Scardillo.

Scardillo is a member of Albany Med’s WOC (Wound, Ostomy, Continence) nursing team, which is comprised of three specially certified nurses (Scardillo, Donna Truland, RN, and Karen Riemenschneider, RN), all of whom have been practicing their specialty for 10 years or more.

An ostomy is a surgically created opening in the abdomen, called a stoma, which allows waste to pass directly out of the body. An estimated one million Americans are living with ostomies and the numbers are growing, as more than 75,000 patients have ostomy surgery every year. And yet many people have never heard the word ostomy.

Thomas Stevens, 64, a patient from Saratoga Springs, is an active retiree who likes to hunt, fish and take his dog for walks. Having suffered from Crohn’s disease since he was 21, he knew that he was at a high risk for colorectal cancer and might someday need an ostomy. Last year, when his annual colonoscopy showed pre-cancerous cells, he listened to his doctor, got a second opinion and decided to have ostomy surgery, which would remove all of the pre-cancerous tissue by removing his colon and rectum.

Stevens was referred to well-known colon and rectal surgeon Edward Lee, MD, chief of the Division of General Surgery, and had the operation in January. Today Stevens says he’s “doing great.”

“I was very impressed with Dr. Lee and with the nurses—they’re specialists and really know what they’re doing. They gave me a lot of confidence, because if you have a good ostomy, you can live a pretty normal life,” he says.

To help ensure patients have a good outcome, WOC nurses become involved even before surgery. “We meet with patients at their pre-anesthesia appointment to explain the process, answer their questions and mark the spot on their bodies where the surgeon will place the stoma,” explains Truland. She says that placement of the stoma is a critical step because every person is unique, with different body contours, clothing preferences, dexterity, vision and life style. A poorly placed stoma can be very uncomfortable and lead to a less than ideal outcome.

Dr. Lee works directly with the WOC nurses and says that when it comes to his ostomy patients, “I could not be successful without the WOC nurses. They are incredibly dedicated to their work and they make all the difference to patients and their families.”
Ostomy patients often have very complex medical issues. For instance they may be simultaneously undergoing treatment for cancer or kidney disease. “Our goal is to make our patients as comfortable and self-sufficient as possible through education, counseling, excellent medical care and ongoing support. We hear their concerns and we encourage them to call us whenever they have a problem,” says Riemenschneider.

Patient Stevens says he certainly feels he has been heard. “Whether I was in the hospital or at home, I could call the nurses and they were always there for me,” he says.