Thursday night, the Northeast Ohio chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation held their annual Premier Awards dinner, honoring lay volunteers and members of the medical community that have made significant contributions to the IBD community.It was an exciting evening for me…two of my favorite people were being honored. My pediatric GI, Dr. Robert Wyllie, was presented with the Premier Physician Award, and I got to present the Distinguished Service award to the most amazing WOCN nurse, my friend Paula.
I first met Paula as teenager. 16 years ago this month, I lay in a hospital room in Cleveland, having just had ostomy surgery in hopes of renewing my quality of life that had been ravaged by inflammatory bowel disease.
Depressed and angry, I laid in the bed with the blinds closed and a huge sign that said “Do NOT bump my bed” posted on the wall above my head. A knock came at the door, and before I could say “Go Away!”, in waltzed a pretty, petite blonde woman in a white lab coat. She walked directly to the window and swung open the blinds. She then turned to me, poised herself on the edge of my bed and said ” HI, I’m the stoma nurse”.
I rolled my eyes and thought to myself “Well ain’t that nice!” I wanted nothing to do with her.
She assembled the supplies and then began showing me how to change the appliance. When we were all done she asked “Have you ever met anyone with an ostomy?” I almost laughed! She’s the nurse…doesn’t she know that all ostomates are 80 years old? How would I know one? “No”, I replied. And with that, she shared with me and my mom that she’d had a stoma since childhood.
When she left my room, I possessed something I had not had prior to my surgery – HOPE. That day was the beginning of a relationship that would change my life.
Those of you that know Paula know that she wears many hats.
She’s a healer. As a highly skilled and decorated nurse, she provides care for patients that have encountered life changing surgeries. Her expertise in the clinical setting restores their bodies, and her depth of compassion and encouragement coupled with her ability to offer proof that there is indeed life after ostomy surgery heals their spirit and gives them hope.
Paula is an educator. Each year she trains several dozen new Wound Ostomy and Continence nurses in the field that she herself was instrumental in helping to develop. She travels the globe, sharing her expertise with nurses, physicians, and ostomy supply companies world-wide. She spearheads research and writes articles for major medical publications, and is guest faculty at nursing schools both here in the states and abroad. I’ve had the privilege of seeing Paula in action, as well as speaking with former students and business associates. Everyone agrees- she’s the best of the best!
She’s a motivator and an inspiration. It’s Paula’s story of overcoming her own medical challenges that spurred me on in my early days with an ostomy. Witnessing the victorious life that she lived, dedicated to serving patients facing mountains that she herself had overcome, made a huge impact on me as a teen. I believed that if she could do it, then I could too. It was Paula who first encouraged my own interest in the field of nursing and enterostomal therapy. And when Crohn’s disease took away my hopes of completing that dream, it was Paula who assured me that I could still make a difference in the the IBD community without an RN degree. It was Paula who helped send me off, at age 17, to the Youth Rally, a camp for kids with ostomies and other bowel and bladder diversions. And many years later, when I was elected President-Elect of the United Ostomy Associations of America, Paula was my biggest cheerleader. When I took my position with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Paula welcomed me as a colleague in the fight against Crohn’s and colitis and continually impresses upon me the truth that we are making a difference in the lives of those suffering with IBD, one patient at a time.
Over the years, Paula has not only served the IBD community here in Northeast Ohio, but has touched the lives of Crohn’s and colitis patients worldwide. Through the training of nurses who specialize in ostomy care, through consulting with companies that provide the latest in ostomy supply technology, and through her dedication and commitment to the healing of her patients both physically and mentally, Paula has planted a legacy of caring service in the lives of all she has touched.
For these reasons and many more, it is my honor and privilege to present CCFA’s Distinguished Service Award to Paula Erwin-Toth.
Presenting Paula with her award ( that’s her grandson beside us ..LOL)
Paula and I
All of the honorees
Paula with Jim Moran and Stephen Forden of ConvaTec