Elsa Iris Santiago Class, RN, is an ostomy nurse from Puerto Rico, who began volunteering with ACS in 1973. Her career path is a fascinating one, and she was honored at the 2018 Nationwide Volunteer and Staff Leadership Summit with our 2018 Lane Adams Quality of Life Award.
Elsa was born in Hatillo, Puerto Rico, a small town just an hour outside of San Juan. In 1967, Elsa entered the Nursing School of the Rio Piedras Medical Center in San Juan. After graduation, she became a staff nurse at San Juan Municipal Hospital, directing all nursing care for her patients in the surgery ward.
In 1973, Elsa began volunteering with the ACS, helping breast cancer patients with mastectomies. Inspired by the cancer patients' healing journey during her volunteering work, Elsa applied for a scholarship with the ACS to further her education. With the scholarship, Elsa studied enterostomal therapy at Roswell Park Memorial in Buffalo, NY. Afterward, Elsa returned to Puerto Rico to direct the rehabilitation program at the San Juan Municipal Hospital, partnering with the ACS rehabilitation program currently known as the Quality of Life program.
At the time, there were only two qualified nurses in all of Puerto Rico working with ostomy patients. One of them worked at the Veteran Administration Hospital dedicated to the military patients. Elsa was the only one working with the public.
Every Saturday, Elsa worked with patients at a rehabilitation clinic that was staffed, in part, by ACS volunteers. From 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., patients from all over the island would show up at the clinic, patients like Velazquez. Velazquez was diagnosed with colon cancer. To make life more difficult, Velazquez would have to live the rest of her life with a permanent colostomy. A colostomy s an opening -- called a stoma -- that connects the colon to the surface of the abdomen. This provides a new path for waste material to leave the body and be collected in a pouch.
The therapy Elsa would give to patients like Velazquez at the clinic made a world of difference. Elsa taught Velazquez how to properly and hygienically manage her ostomy. More importantly, Elsa taught Velazquez how to manage her fears - of accidents and smells that would paralyze her social, work, and personal life. However, with Elsa's help, Velazquez learned to accept her ostomy. With Elsa's guidance, Velazquez led a life as normal as possible, traveling with her ostomy to different countries. Ostomy patients like Velazquez can live their lives to the fullest, all thanks to Elsa and other ACS volunteers at the rehabilitation clinic.
As an enterostomal therapist for the last 30 years, Elsa has always put her patients' needs first. As testified by her colleagues, the phrase most often used by Elsa is "the quality of life and dignity of the patient." Elsa is a strong advocate for our Quality of Life program, expanding service to Arecibo and Mayagüez. Partnering with various non-profit organizations, Elsa has been able to extend service to the underinsured and the medically indigent population. With the help of a group of ostomized patients, she founded the Association of Ostomized of Puerto Rico which provides education and support to patients. For everything Elsa has done for her patients, she has been recognized as the "Most Outstanding Woman in Health" by the Municipality of San Juan.
Throughout the years, Elsa has mentored numerous colleagues in helping patients cope with their difficult diagnosis. Directly or through her mentees, Elsa has improved countless lives. By simply always considering how to better help her patients, she has grown to become a key player in wound management and ostomy care, highly regarded by surgeons, nurses, and patients all over the island.
You can listen to the awards ceremony and particularly Elsa's acceptance speech (Time: 26:45 -29:50.
Do you know an exceptional volunteer who should be nominated for the 2019 Lane Adams Quality of Life Award? Information about nominating them can be found here.
The Lane Adams Quality of Life Award recognizes those who are providing care and support which impacts the quality of life for cancer patients and their families. This award seeks to recognize those individuals who go beyond the duties of their positions to make a difference in the daily struggles of cancer patients yet their contributions are seldom significantly acknowledged.
TOP PHOTO: From left, ACS CEO Gary Reedy; Elsa Iris Santiago Class, RN; volunteer Susan Henry, chair, Lane Adams Quality of Life Award Workgroup; and ACS Board Chair Kevin J. Cullen, MD.