By Karen Schmidt
If empathy is gained by experiencing what others endure, then Ben Zuniga, FNP-C, RN, has a healthy quota of empathy for patients. As a family nurse practitioner at the Comprehensive Medical Clinic in Corpus Christi, Texas, Zuniga encounters numerous adult patients with chronic illnesses — something he understands well. Since age 16, Zuniga has been living with Corpus Christi a clotting disorder which has resulted in years of chronic wound issues.
“Trying to understand this disorder was what brought me to nursing,” he said. “At age 17, when I was able to go to the Mayo Clinic, I still didn’t know much, only that my clotting time was abnormal.”
That week of testing resulted in the Von Willebrand diagnosis, Zuniga said. Blood studies on family members revealed each had some form of clotting deficiency, but none was as serious as his; he’s missing a bit of each of the 12 clotting factors normally present.
Despite the diagnosis, Zuniga pursued his advanced nursing degree, recognizing over time how the clotting disorder impacted his personal and professional life. In 2000, he experienced a deep vein thrombosis in his left leg. This problem was compounded after he tripped on a parking lot curb and sustained an open wound from exposed rebar. “I put some bacitracin on the wound, covered it, and thought it would do fine,” he said. Gradually, the wound seemed to heal.
Six months later, the wound turned from acute to chronic. “After being on my feet for a 12-hour shift in the ICU, that leg throbbed so much,” he said. “I had constant pain, which left me unable to sleep for more than five or six hours a night.”
Zuniga, who also covers emergency room shifts at Christus Spohn Hospital in Corpus Christi, battled the wound for years, consulting multiple physicians and plastic surgeons, undergoing skin grafts several times, and having hyperbaric treatment. He still experienced significant pain, wound drainage and sleeplessness.
While browsing Facebook one day, he spied a new wound care product: a self-adaptive wound dressing. “I decided I’d already tried everything else, why not try this product?” he said. Eventually Zuniga connected with Vicki Fischenich, MSN, RN, GNP-BC, WCC, a clinical advisor for Santa Clara, California-based OSNovative, which produces the product.
Fischenich offered Zuniga a trial with the new product, Enluxtra, along with her wound care expertise, which she gained as a wound care nurse specialist at Southwest Regional Wound Care in Lubbock, Texas.
From a nursing perspective, Zuniga said the chronic wound journey “has allowed me to understand what barriers a patient goes through when they have a chronic disease. If they can’t see a specialist or afford the medication they need, it impacts their well being.”
Having a chronic wound, Zuniga said, has enabled him to work with greater understanding and knowledge with patients who are trying to figure out by trial and error what might resolve their chronic problems. “I’m able to do more one-on-one teaching. I know they need to understand how this chronic condition affects their health.”
Fortunately, his personal battle with a chronic wound seems to be resolving. “Before using the self-adaptive wound product, I couldn’t even go to a amusement park with the family. I had so much pain, I would let the others go on without me so I could takes breaks between all the walking. Now I don’t have to limit my activities.”
Karen Schmidt, RN, is a freelance writer