‘Wanna Wear One Campaign’ provides support for UNC Hospitals’ ostomy patients

The success of the Wanna Wear One campaign held at UNC Hospitals three years ago led ostomy nurse Lara Leininger to try it again in 2013. This year’s three-day event brought even more participants out to demonstrate support for UNC Hospitals’ ostomy patients and raise awareness about their experiences.

‘Wanna Wear One Campaign’ provides support for UNC Hospitals’ ostomy patients click to enlarge PICU nurse John Bryson won this year's "Wanna Wear One" photography contest for this photo of his bag and his chicks. Bryson won a Starbucks giftcard.
‘Wanna Wear One Campaign’ provides support for UNC Hospitals’ ostomy patients click to enlarge Rock climbing with an ostomy bag attached.

Even routine daily activities can prove difficult for ostomy patients, especially as they first adjust to wearing an ostomy bag. After undergoing the intestinal or urinary procedure that diverts waste to the bag, ostomy patients must learn to fit the bag under their clothes, comfortably situate it against their skin, and empty it regularly. They must become accustomed to having it with them at all times, in all places, no matter the situation.   

Three years ago, to support ostomy patients and raise awareness about their experiences,  Lara Leininger, BSN, RN, a Certified Wound Ostomy Continence Nurse in the Surgery Service, initiated the “Wanna Wear One” campaign, a three-day event during which participants wear an ostomy bag morning, noon, and night.

“The campaign has helped us understand how important the procedure and the bag are to the patient and given us an awareness of what life is like living day-to-day with a bag on,” says Leininger.

This year the campaign saw 180 UNC Hospitals’ coworkers take up the cause. Some participants work directly with ostomy patients; others had heard about the campaign and decided to show their support by donning a bag. Turnout was especially impressive in Rehab, which had 30 participants; 4 Anderson North, which had 29; and 7 Neurosciences, which had 23. Nineteen surgery residents participated as well.

On the first day of the campaign, participants woke up in the morning, found a good spot on their stomach to wear the bag, and applied it. On day two, they filled the bag with a substance – apple juice, apple sauce, and oatmeal were common selections; vegetable soup and Reese’s Pieces were among the less common. And later on day two, they practiced emptying the bag.

On the final day, they did something active while wearing the bag. For instance, one participant rock climbed at an indoor climbing wall. Leininger took hers with her on a bike race the weekend prior to the campaign.

Leininger points out that the routine things we do to live our lives normally and comfortably are often taken for granted.

“By wearing the bags for three days, you get a feeling of how to shower with it on, how to put your clothes on, how to sit comfortably without the bag bunching up and poking you,” she says.  

Wearing an ostomy bag may result from any number of conditions or factors: colon or bladder cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, perhaps a trauma. Although the process is extremely difficult for patients on both short- and long-term bases, Leininger sees many patients who consider the procedure a blessing.

“It’s a relief, especially for our Crohn’s and colitis patient population, who are so sick,” says Leininger. “When you take them to surgery and remove the part of their bowels that is making them sick and give them an ostomy bag, they almost instantly feel like they have their lives back. They’re not in the bathroom throughout the day in agony and pain. They often feel so much better.”

Lesley-Anne Bandy, BSN, RN, Nurse Manager of the UNC Rehabilitation Center, participated in this year’s campaign. She witnessed the impact it had on her unit and believes that the positive benefits of participating in it will be shown in the quality of the care her unit provides in the future.

“It made us think about things in a different way and develop greater empathy for what these patients go through,” she says. “I also think the impacts will be felt by patients. The experience will help us provide better care for ostomy patients because we’re more aware of their feelings and the challenges they face.”

Bandy credits the campaign for positively impacting the overall working environment of her unit. She acknowledges that she hadn’t planned on participating at first, but when she saw so many staff members signing up, she had to join them.

“If they were willing to do this for our patients, then I needed to be willing to do it too,” she says. “They convinced me that I had to step up and participate. It became a good team-building exercise because we all felt like we were in it together, especially in rehab where we’re so interdisciplinary.”

According to Leininger, the support generated by the Wanna Wear One campaign is appreciated by UNC Hospitals’ ostomy patients. When visiting patients who were set to receive ostomy surgery, she and her colleagues pulled up their shirts to demonstrate that the bag isn’t necessarily noticeable. Spirits were immediately lifted among the patients. And when sharing news about the campaign with new ostomy patients learning how to use their bag, patients felt supported.

“Patients loved it,” says Leininger. “They thanked us – one patient even started to cry.”

At the end of the three-day campaign, the group held a banquet during which they had “take-down” surgeries to remove the bag, shared photos they took of themselves during the campaign, discussed their experiences, and listened to 37-year-old Ironman and ileostomy colon cancer survivor Ryan Switzer speak about his experience. Diagnosed with colon cancer in his mid-30s, Switzer, a father of two, went through several surgeries before receiving the ostomy bag.

“Getting the bag was one of the best things to happen,” says Switzer. “I was immediately able to function normally again.”

Switzer went from spending most of his time either in the bathroom or in bed to returning to an active life again – jogging, biking, and eventually becoming comfortable swimming with the bag. He has since completed an Ironman.

“It takes a while to get used to it, but now I wish I’d have gotten it from day one,” he says. “I thought it would be horrible and I wouldn’t be able to do anything, but it doesn’t prevent you from doing anything in life.”

Thanks to everyone who participated in "Wanna Wear One" and helped teach more about ostomy and show support for our patients! To view Ryan Switzer’s Ironman video, click here.

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