Benefis Wound Care Can Be Critical Part of Complex Recoveries

After 23 days in the Intensive Care Unit for a double perforated bowel and sepsis and with a massive wound on her abdomen, Abbra Firman, 37, was able to return home with support from a large team of Benefis Health System providers, therapists, nurses, and specialists.

“I’m not a hot mess. I’m a spicy disaster,” said Abbra, who worked for the American Red Cross. “There’s only one way to get through a disaster. A community helps you clean it up.”

Abbra was seemingly healthy until “Bam! I was in the Emergency Department.” She nearly died. Her team in the hospital helped her survive. Wound care, physical and occupational therapies, and her in-home nursing care are helping her get back to normal.

“I left the hospital needing to use a walker, but alive. If you’re alive, everything else you can figure out,” she said.

Abbra’s wound was almost 5 centimeters wide, nearly as deep, and ran the length of her abdomen. Now it's down to one small section. As it's healed, she's changed the style of wound dressing to suit various phases.

"All of it has resulted in no infections. For such a large wound, that's a big deal," she said.

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Abbra said she always had a lot of support from the Benefis Wound Care Clinic and her Benefis Community Care home health nurse.

"It would have been a bumpy road without them," she said.

"I like that I was empowered to be involved. I could reach out for help, but also I could be active in my recovery and have some power,” she said. “I wasn't just sidelined waiting for my body to get better, but I was actively making it better."

The Wound Care Clinic specializes in advanced wound care treatments, such as debridement, specialized dressings, bioengineered skin grafting, edema management, diabetic wound care, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and comprehensive ostomy services. 

The clinic had 7,041 visits in 2020, which includes 1,070 hyperbaric oxygen treatments. Patients come from as far away as Anaconda and Kalispell. One patient came all the way from Wyoming for help.

The most common reasons people need care are diabetic wounds and venous insufficiency ulcers. Treatments can take 30-120+ minutes depending on the severity of the wound. 

Abbra comes into Wound Care, located on the Benefis West Campus, weekly. Pam Reitz-Stevens, RN, inspects her wound. She coordinates with Abbra’s Community Care nurse. They work on her ileostomy bag, which is eating away her skin – also irritated by the glue. Dr. Enid Ling-Stowers inspects the wound and treats it with silver nitrate for even healing.

The Wound Care Clinic also helps tie all her appointments together, "And then I get a warm blanket, and that's generally how it goes."

Pam calls her an overachiever.

"You're doing great," she says with a pat.

I like that I was empowered to be involved. I could reach out for help, but also I could be active in my recovery and have some power.”

–Abbra Firman, Benefis patient

Abbra’s bowel problems likely are linked to an undiagnosed case of Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. She had to have her large intestine removed. If she’d been much older, her prognosis would have been grim.

"It was a very near thing," she said. "I had always looked at life with gratitude. Now I'm even more grateful."

As a Sept. 11, 2001, responder with the American Red Cross, Abbra was at Ground Zero just 10 days after the terrorist attacks. The site was still on fire; bodies were still being unearthed. Her job was to take people back to their apartments for the first time since they evacuated.

"The people who had stringent five- or 10-year plans and felt like they were in control had the hardest time coping with the world reminding them there is little in this world we actually control,” she said.

"Helping others cope with mortality, I could do. With my own mortality, it was harder,” she said. “But I’ve learned a lot of skills that translate into dealing with one’s own trauma.”

She was touched as the Wound Care staff has noticed and celebrated her progress, such as moving from a walker to a cane.

"There is a sense of community here,” she said. “If you have a good day or a bad day, they meet you where you're at."

No referral is necessary for Wound Care Clinic treatment. Just call (406) 455-2688 to set up an appointment.