It’s in the bag


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When the going gets tough, the tough seek help from the Winnipeg Ostomy Association, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary helping people of all ages with digestion-related medical issues.

What those seeking support and information have in common is that they all use a colostomy bag, also known as a stoma or ostomy bag. It is a waterproof pouch that collects waste from the body after surgery between the colon (large intestine) and the abdominal wall.

A member of WOA for the past 22 years and president for 11, Lorrie Pismenny has witnessed the power of group support, when folks realize they are not alone in dealing with ostomy concerns.

<p>Supplied photo</p>
                                <p>Lorrie Pismenny is president of the Winnipeg Ostomy Association.</p>

Supplied photo

Lorrie Pismenny is president of the Winnipeg Ostomy Association.

While Pismenny readily shares her journey of debilitating ulcerative colitis, there are many reasons why it is necessary to have one’s intestines removed, such as birth defects, accidents, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colostomies and colon or bladder cancer. The WOA also supports those dealing with ileostomy and urostomy.

Ostomy nurses and patients meet the fourth Wednesday of every month at 202- 825 Sherbrook St. The WOA is the only support of its kind in Manitoba for approximately 4,500 patients and Pismenny reports attendance grew exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to concurrent hybrid zoom and in-person meetings. The meetings are open and free, and spouses and family are welcome. Conversation at coffee time allows for one-to-one sharing.

WOA does not receive any government money and is run by an annual $40 membership fee for those who chose to join, as well as donations, which covers meeting-room rentals and newsletter mailings eight times a year. Teaching booklets written by nurses on living with an ileal conduit, ileostomy or colostomy are available for download online.

The association’s most appreciated endeavour is its visiting program which matches an experienced ‘ostomate’ with a newly diagnosed patient or someone post-surgery in hospital. Talking with someone who is healthy and vibrant in the community gives hope to those anxious about what their post-operative lives will look like. Those visits have been called a true ‘game changer’ by many a patient. The In and Out newletter gives the latest medical updates as well as inspiring personal stories. Common questions of those newly diagnosed includes, “can I go swimming?”; “can I travel?“; “can I have babies?”

The answer to all of the above is a resounding yes!

Ostomy supplies cost approximately $3,000 per year and, since 1974, Manitoba is the only Canadian province to provide them at no charge. Special travel appliance pouches are available from ostomy nurse practitioners.

Pismenny says “the surgery is liberating and once you get used to pouch maintenance, it’s just like brushing your teeth every day.”

This reality and support is especially important for children who have colostomies as they think they are the only kid who wears a bag. There is a kids’ camp for those nine to 18 years of age every summer in Bragg Creek, Alta . Ostomy nurses are key to dispelling myths, allaying fears and getting the kids swimming, rock climbing while bonding with other kids.

The Winnipeg chapter collects unused supplies and sends them to Friends of Ostomates Worldwide.

Pismenny is quick to point out that, “we know how to have fun as well, with social events of all types. Our volunteers and Board members are passionate about helping others to celebrate life after surgery.” To learn more, visit

Heather Emberley

Heather Emberley
Crescentwood community correspondent

Heather Emberley is a community correspondent for Crescentwood. Email her at if you have a story suggestion.

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