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Home-health nurse a 'guardian angel'

March 01, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

Ask Julie Wagner and she will describe herself as a registered nurse with Washington County Hospital's Home Health Care department. But to Linda Wieczorek and her husband, Tom, she is a guardian angel.

Diagnosed three years ago with an inflammatory bowel disorder called Crohn's disease, Wieczorek awoke one morning last April with the first in a series of ugly, black ulcers that suddenly appeared on her legs.

Two long hospital stays, several skin grafts and months of home health care later, Wieczorek is healed and nearly pain-free. But it was a long, hard struggle.

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"I know I would have lost my feet if it hadn't been for Julie and the other home-health nurses from Washington County Hospital," she said.

The two women got together at Wieczorek's home near Leitersburg recently just to visit, as they have many times since the medical visits ended in October.

They have become friends with a very special connection.

"When I first discovered the ulcers, I went to my doctor and he asked me what I had done to my leg," Wieczorek said. "I told him I hadn't hit it or burned it ... that those ulcers had just appeared overnight."

At first there were only a few and they were each about the size of a quarter. Before the painful experience was over, Wieczorek had 13 ulcers on both feet and legs.

A few days after the first ulcers appeared, Wieczorek was in Washington County Hospital, where she remained for one month. But the treatment wasn't helping, she said.

After she came home, a relative told her about Bon Secours Hospital for vascular wound care in Altoona, Pa., and she went there last May. A doctor there found the crucial correlation between her Crohn's disease and the ulcers.

"While Linda was in Altoona, she had to be flat on her back all the time," said Tom Wieczorek. Nurses there washed the wounds regularly, did blood work and treated her high blood sugar.

Once she came home from Altoona, Wieczorek was getting regular home health-care visits from Wagner and two other RNs, Dawn Sharer and Cathy Miller. From time to time, others from the department would come for a visit.

During a visit one hot July day, Wagner said she was unwrapping Wieczorek's bandages when she noticed a smell that her experience told her was an infection.

"I took a wound culture and it was positive for infection," Wagner said.

That particular infection was identified as a serious type that was very resistant to normal antibiotic treatment, Wagner said. It would require either an IV antibiotic treatment or oral medication under intensive home health care, which was the treatment chosen for Wieczorek.

Once she came home in August, Wagner and the other Home Health Care nurses picked up that care.

"I'd never heard of that kind of treatment before," she said. "It took two hours each visit and I was six months pregnant then."

But even with that care, Wieczorek was far from being out of danger. Skin grafts were needed in August and the Wieczoreks returned to Altoona for those, five in all.

"We finally discharged Linda from home health care in October," Wagner said. But the visits - now more between friends - have continued informally.

Wieczorek said Wagner often calls to check on her, and she also calls when she wants to talk or ask advice.

"Julie brought her new baby over to show us," Wieczorek said. "She is just wonderful to us."

Wagner, 22, said she truly loves her job as a home health-care nurse. "It's great because the people are great," she said. "I also like the independence."

The Wieczoreks said the combination of great care, a lot of prayer and their "guardian angel" brought them through a very difficult year.

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