Born in Akron, OH, on June 26, 1920, Norma Gill married at 18 after graduating high school and subsequently had 3 children. At age 28, she began to have serious complications (including severe leg ulcerations) of what was finally diagnosed as ulcerative colitis. In 1955, at age 34, she underwent ileostomy surgery (abdominal perineal resection, total colectomy, and end ileostomy) at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, performed by the Chief of Colorectal Surgery Rupert B. Turnbull, Jr, MD.1 By 1958, Gill had made a miraculous recovery.
Turnbull realized that he could perform this relatively new ostomy surgery, but who would help patients cope with life with a stoma? In 1958, Turnbull envisioned the role of a person who would help with the rehabilitation of these patients; he coined the term “enterostomal therapist” and offered Gill a full-time position at the Cleveland Clinic as the world’s first ET.2 In 1961, they opened the first school of ET at the Cleveland Clinic.3 The first students were patients, family members, and a few health care professionals. Turnbull and Gill often are referred to as the Father and Mother of Enterostomal Therapy.2,3
In addition, Gill was a key player in founding the American Association of Enterostomal Therapy in 1968. This later became the North American Association of Enterostomal Therapy, then the International Association of Enterostomal Therapy, and now the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses Society. Gill was instrumental in founding the World Council of Enterostomal Therapy (WCET), which held its first congress in Milan, Italy, in 1978. Gill served as the first president.4
Turnbull and Gill were also concerned about supporting patients with an ostomy and their families. In 1960 the two formed the Cleveland Ostomy Association, with Gill serving as chair for the first 2 years.1 In 1962, the association became the United Ostomy Association.
Gill’s passion for ETs and ET nursing drove her to travel the globe. She founded ET education programs in numerous countries, supported efforts to distribute ostomy supplies worldwide, and taught patients and their families wherever she went. Gwen Turnbull, ET/WOC nurse and daughter-in-law of Rupert Turnbull, wrote that Gill’s life was “guided by triumph over incredible obstacles, an indomitable spirit and fire, the richness of worldwide travel, an undying passion, unlimited energy, a heart bigger than a barn, a thirst for knowledge, incredible guts, dedication, an irascible sense of humor, and a magnetic smile that won over even the toughest of opponents.”5
On October 25, 1998, Gill died at age 78. Her mission and passion were to bring a better quality of life to people with ostomy, wound, and continence needs. Today, every ET, ET nurse, stoma nurse, and WOC nurse carry on this mission. From the beginning, the ET role was patient-centered and interprofessional. Having been a patient herself, Gill understood the importance of patient-centered care and literally represented the concept. Patients having access to appropriately trained specialty nurses is her lasting legacy.