Dorothy Christianson shows one photo after the next: a gaping wound in various stages of healing. The images might make some queasy, but 54-year-old Dorothy doesn’t even flinch.
“It was 3 inches deep and 6 inches in diameter,” she says. “That was in March 2010. I couldn’t even look at it.”
The open wound resulted from surgery to successfully remove life-threatening, extensive infection. Next came the challenge of healing.
Advanced technology and more
Dorothy knew from the start that her large open wound would require considerable time to close. It would also require advanced technology and the highly trained team at Sanford Wound Care Center in Fargo, North Dakota.
“When I came out of surgery, the wound vac was on — and it definitely needed to stay,” says Dorothy, referring to the portable machine that became her 24/7 companion for the next three months. The device provided gentle suction, promoting healing from the inside out.
“Without the wound vac, I never would’ve been able to keep infection away. My nurses at the Wound Care Center knew that,” says Dorothy. “They went to bat for me.”
Dorothy was able to go home with the wound vac, but needed other help, too, including:
- Medication for pain. “I felt miserable and extremely weak,” she says. “I could barely make it up the 14 steps to get to the bathroom.”
- Family support, including the watchful eyes of grown daughter Amanda who’s also a nurse. She urged her mom to ask questions and participate in her care.
- Home health nurses. Three times a week they assisted Dorothy and made sure the wound vac was functioning optimally.
Specializing in wound care — and encouragement
On a weekly basis Dorothy traveled 75 miles from her home in Lisbon, North Dakota, to specialized wound care in Fargo. Her husband, Paul, drove her.
Each time Sanford Health’s experienced wound nurses carefully changed the dressing, assessed progress and trimmed tissue to promote healing. Gradually the trips lessened to every other week.
“Those nurses were awesome, just awesome,” says Dorothy. “I’m a worry wart and yes, I was scared. There were times I wondered if I was going to make it through all this. They kept encouraging me and telling me I was doing well. They’d get my attitude up a little and that really helped.”
Dorothy’s care also required follow-up visits with her Sanford Health surgeon Dr. Bhargav Mistry. Arrangements were made so she could see him at the wound care center.
“Everything was done in one place at one time. That made it so much easier,” says Dorothy.
Like the other members of the wound care team, Dr. Mistry wanted a full recovery for Dorothy, including an eventual skin graft. But to Dorothy progress seemed slow.
“I kept asking Dr. Mistry when I was going to feel better. He said I had a long haul, but give it another month. He was right,” says Dorothy.
A turning point came in May 2010. Dorothy’s energy and health had picked up. She even went on a fishing trip with Paul. A short time later the wound vac was discontinued.
By June 1, the healing reached the point where Dr. Mistry was able to perform a graft. He removed a portion of skin from Dorothy’s upper leg, placing it over the abdominal wound.
“Look how nicely it healed,” she says, showing one of the last photos. Then she lifts up her yellow shirt to give a firsthand look.
The joy of normal
It’s a gray day in February, but gray doesn’t begin to describe Dorothy’s life today. She sits in her living room crocheting a yellow and blue baby afghan as 1-year-old grandson Liam plays with every toy in Grandma’s toy basket. “He’s my first and I spoil him rotten,” she says.
And Dorothy’s quality of life? “Normal! And that makes me so happy,” she says. “I’m not sure I’d even be here if it weren’t for the help I got from Sanford and the wound care team.”
Dorothy glances out the window where well-stocked birdfeeders attract critters of all kinds — woodpeckers, blue jays, squirrels, even an occasional hawk. “Liam, come and see this one!” she says, picking him up and holding him close. Together they take in the show.
If a difficult, slow-healing wound has worn you down, whether it’s from a procedure, an accident or disease, take it from Dorothy: “There’s help available. And life really does get better again.”