Provided by Novant Health UVA Health System
After a mysterious illness left her completely debilitated, Ashley Miller couldn’t imagine the emotional journey that would accompany her physical healing with the team at Novant Health UVA Health System Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine.
In 2017, Miller, a Nokesville local, was a healthy young woman who found herself admitted to the hospital. She was put on a feeding tube, treated for pneumonia and discharged. Five days later, her father noticed she didn’t look well and immediately drove her to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with aspiration pneumonia. She was transferred to George Washington University Hospital and within an hour, Miller went into respiratory failure and cardiac failure. She was intubated and taken to the intensive care unit, where she spent the following two-and-a-half months.
While in the intensive care unit, Miller was in critical condition and lost all control of her voluntary functions. Her parents were told by physicians to prepare to say goodbye to their daughter.
“I am here by the grace of God,” she said. “I lost my ability to walk, lost my ability to eat, lost my ability to do anything. I couldn’t even lift a finger on my own. I had to relearn everything. It is truly a miracle of Him that I am here today.”
After lying in bed unable to move on her own for so long, Miller developed a severe sacral decubitus ulcer exposing the underlying bone. She was referred to Novant Health UVA Health System Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine in Manassas, where she underwent intensive treatment for nine months.
As a physician’s assistant, Miller knew she had to seek care in order to heal, but the unknowns of her treatment worried her. “I was terrified of going and couldn’t help but think, ‘Who wants to deal with this?’” Miller said. “I also had no idea what it was going to take to heal or the amount of pain I would feel.”
Healing Emotional and Physical Wounds
On her first day of treatment, Miller met the team at Novant Health UVA Health System Wound Care and Hyperbaric Medicine who greeted her with a smile and no judgement. The team recognized that she was more than a patient with a wound and looked beyond her treatment plan to help her heal mentally, as well as physically.
“From the minute I was there, there was no shame,” she said. “I wasn’t just a patient. To them, I was a unique individual with a story, and they wanted to know that story.”
Miller called the team “warriors” because they battled by her side without hesitation. They walked her through every treatment — every cut, every noise, every machine — so Miller knew exactly what they were going to do ahead of time.
“They gave me back that sense of control I had lost for so long,” she said. “They saw me from when I couldn’t walk without a walker to reclaiming my life.”
Miller grew closer with the wound care team and bonded with one of the nurses, Christy Robinson. Robinson was the first member of the team Miller met when she came to the wound center and grew to be Miller’s key support person throughout her journey.
“She was my pillar,” Miller said. “In every moment of anxiety, she knew what to say. She would tell me, ‘You’re going to hold my hand, and I’m going to journey this pain with you.’ Her heart of empathy and the humanity she felt for me got me through my most painful days.”
Robinson recognizes that each patient is unique and consciously leaves her judgement behind with each case. She intentionally listens to every patient’s story and treats them with dignity and respect.
“Everyone is at different points in their lives and everyone has had different struggles, so I accept them as they are without judgement and help them heal their wounds,” said Robinson.
Miller cherished her time with Robinson so much that she started looking forward to her treatment days or “Wound Care Wednesdays,” as she called them. The two would talk about things unrelated to Miller’s wound — her dogs, the book she authored and her family — to redirect her attention away from the pain.
When Miller had to seek treatment two years later for a wound that occurred while playing with her new puppy, Bumbl, she was relieved to know she’d be surrounded by familiar faces once again.
Finding Community and Healing
Physical wounds come with their own set of emotional and mental trauma. Undergoing treatment may feel embarrassing and can deter many from seeking the care they need. “Shame is a very powerful thing,” Miller shared.
However, delaying treatment can cause the wound to fester, leading to a heavier emotional and mental toll along with physical complications.
Miller urges anyone with wounds, whether physical or emotional, to seek treatment because the mental healing and the community that comes with it outweighs all physical pain. “You are not your wound and your wounds should not hold you back,” Miller said. “When you seek care, you’ll find a community that will help you live out the best version of your life.”
For more information about wound care at Novant Health UVA Health System, visit NovantHealthUVA.org/woundcare.