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Michaela Tait

NHS Senior Manager

The image of stomas has been changed through the help of stoma patients, nurses and an artist who made the vision a reality.

NHS manager Michaela Tait listens to patients to improve their experiences. Now she has combined her listening skills with her artistic talent to change the image of life with a stoma.

“Like most people, perhaps, I felt that stomas would be unpleasant to hear about” Michaela says.

But when she got involved with a project that meant listening to stoma patients and nurses, she discovered it could transform patients’ lives. “Many said it gave them their lives back, and one man described his stoma bag as his ‘bag for life’” she says.

Michaela draws ‘jelly-baby people’, adding a heart to show their emotional side, and asked the patients how the stoma could be incorporated too.

“As a small bit of red bowel emerging through the skin, the stoma resembles a rosebud, so we decided I should draw jelly-baby people where the rosebud blossomed into a beautiful flower.”

“This resonated with the patients because their stomas had allowed them to bloom again, often after years of debilitating illness. We put in a few thorns because things were not always problem-free, but the images associate the stoma with blossoming into life – and roses are fragrant too!”

The specialist nurses fighting the stigma of stomas

Tracey Virgin-Ellison

Lead Specialist Stoma Care Nurse, Chelsea and Westminster Hospitals

Sarah Reid

Lead Specialist Stoma Care Nurse, Ashford and St Peters Hospitals

Tracey and Sarah: Award winning stoma care nurse specialists (SCNS) determined to show that rather than being something to fear, a stoma bag can change lives for the better.

What is a stoma?

A stoma is surgically created to remove disease such as cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or diverticulitis. It is an artificial opening on the abdomen, that allows faeces or urine, either from the intestine or from the urinary tract, to pass into a pouch, called a stoma bag. A colostomy is where part of the large bowel, is brought to the surface of the abdomen; an ileostomy is where the small bowel is used.

For those patients who have lived with the experience of chronic bowel disease, stoma surgery can transform their lives for the better. “A stoma can be a real life changer, I have seen patients go from fear to self-confidence, a stoma allows them to get on living their lives, pain free rather than spend hours worrying about where the next toilet is” says SCNS Tracey Virgin-Elliston.

“Sadly, we still see patients in clinic, that when given a cancer diagnosis, where surgery includes stoma formation, will say that they would rather die than have a bag. The thought of wearing a bag is usually devastating” adds Sarah Reid. “I’ve even had patients for whom the concern about the bag overrides their concern about cancer.”

For many patients, the thought of having a stoma bag is horrifying – yet given the correct information and support, most are able to adapt and lead complete and fulfilled lives.

Removing the stigma around stomas

These two nurses, along with Natasha Rolls and Mary Kane, are campaigning to remove fear, stigma and myths that surround stomas.

SCNS are specialists in all aspects of stoma care and offer lifelong support for patients with a stoma. Sarah says: “We meet them before surgery to find out more about their lives and relationships, offering information and discussing any concerns that they may have.”

The most common fears are around potential odour, leakage and relationships, “We discuss all of this and psychosexual/ body image concerns. We build lifelong relationships with patients and their families because a stoma affects them too” says Tracey. Sarah adds “We see our patients in hospital and their homes and become important to them – we have even been invited to their weddings.”

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