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Great Comebacks® Program Recognizes National Award Winners

NEW ORLEANS, June 5, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Chuck Wielgus, Executive Director of USA Swimming, was named this year's Great Comebacks® National Award recipient at a ceremony held in conjunction with the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses (WOCN) Society's 43rd Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA.  The Great Comebacks® Program, which provides support for people living with intestinal diseases that can lead to ostomy surgery, annually honors outstanding individuals who are inspiring others to live life to the fullest after surgery.

"Chuck Wielgus has courageously faced many health challenges, yet has refused to let anything slow him down and keep him from accomplishing many things in his life. Great Comebacks® is proud to recognize Chuck for his strength of heart and mind, and for helping us change misperceptions and build greater awareness of living life with an ostomy," said Rolf Benirschke, Founder and Chairman, Great Comebacks® Program.

Since his ostomy surgery following a diagnosis of Stage III colorectal cancer in 2006, Wielgus has remained active in USA Swimming, traveling widely to encourage competitors at numerous meets including the Beijing Games in 2008. He is also Chief Executive Officer of the USA Swimming Foundation, raising awareness of the achievements of U.S. swimmers at all levels and promoting water safety.  He also recently received the Nadar Por Vida Award for promoting diversity in swimming.

Each year, the Great Comebacks® Program recognizes people who have faced challenges associated with intestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer and other conditions that can lead to ostomy surgery.  Four regional award recipients are selected by the Great Comebacks® Advisory Committee, and a national award winner is chosen from among these finalists. In addition to Chuck Wielgus, the regional awardees for 2010 are Yvonne Austin, Grove City, OH; David Barger, Panama City, FL; and Linda Pasto, Ithaca, NY.

At the ceremony in New Orleans, Great Comebacks® also presented its Public Service Award named in memory of Tony Snow, the former White House advisor and news broadcaster who was an Honorary Great Comebacks® Award recipient in 2006.  In March, Great Comebacks® named LTC (R) Justin F. Blum, a retired lieutenant colonel working as an instructor of JROTC programs and commanding the South Carolina State Guard for Homeland Security, the 2011 Tony Snow Public Service Award Winner.  

Great Comebacks® is sponsored by ConvaTec, a world-leading developer and marketer of innovative medical technologies for community and hospital care, in partnership with the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation (CCFA), the United Ostomy Associations of America, Inc. (UOAA), the Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society (IDEAS), the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses (WOCN) Society and the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS).

"Both of the individuals recognized this evening have displayed exceptional courage and a dedication to others that motivates all of us. As a leader in ostomy care for more than 30 years, ConvaTec is proud to help people with an ostomy live their lives with confidence," said Brad Barton, President, ConvaTec U.S.A.  "It is so rewarding when we hear stories like those of Chuck and Justin, who have remained active, reached or exceeded their goals, and then have inspired others."

More information about all of the Great Comebacks® Award recipients is available at

Chuck Wielgus, 2010 National Award Recipient

At the age of 56, Chuck Wielgus had an active life serving as Executive Director of USA Swimming, traveling the globe, playing recreational basketball, swimming, golfing and biking, when he was diagnosed with Stage III colorectal cancer. He had to quickly undergo chemotherapy and radiation and was told he needed surgery.  

"A day before surgery I found out I was going to have an ostomy and I didn't know what that was. I wondered, 'Am I going to be able to do all the things I used to do?'" recalled Wielgus.

Wielgus began to recover from his surgery and chemotherapy treatments only to end up back in the hospital a year later when he developed peripheral neuropathy—permanent damage to the nerves in his hands and feet. He was inspired by his swimming family and wife, Nancy, to continue the active lifestyle he enjoyed prior to surgery despite this new challenge. Soon, he was able to resume working at USA Swimming and as CEO of the USA Swimming Foundation, which provides financial support for swimmers of all ages and advocates for water safety. Wielgus traveled to Beijing to encourage the 2008 U.S. Swim Team and continues traveling 25 weekends a year as part of his role with USA Swimming.

"My illness has made me much more patient, tolerant and understanding and I now look for ways to reach out and support others who are confronting physical and emotional challenges," said Wielgus. Wielgus, now 60, resides in Colorado Springs, CO and has four children.

LTC (R) Justin F. Blum, Tony Snow Public Service Award Recipient

The words "I can't" are just not part of Justin Blum's vocabulary. Justin, now retired from the Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, received a permanent ostomy at the age of 40 following a 21-year battle with ulcerative colitis and a diagnosis of early stage colon cancer, but he didn't give up on his service to others or the nation.

Only three months after surgery, Justin was walking nine miles each day to prepare for the army's physical fitness test, which he was able to pass and continue serving in active duty. Though no longer on active duty, he has been in uniform for more than 40 years, serving as the Senior Army Instructor of the Marlboro County High School Army Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) Program and as an instructor of JROTC at the South Carolina Youth Challenge Academy. He commands soldiers in the South Carolina State Guard for Homeland Security and develops community collaborative partnerships for the United States Army Cadet Command.

"I use my ostomy as an example to show kids 'don't give up'," said Justin. "I'm able to give the kids something they haven't been given before; an example of leadership and character to raise their self esteem and motivation."

Justin, 58, lives in Florence, SC with his wife and three children and volunteers in many nonprofit initiatives such as the American Red Cross, the Marlboro County Cancer Relay for Life and the Pee Dee Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault.

About the Great Comebacks® Program

Now in its third decade, the Great Comebacks® Program raises awareness of quality of life issues for people with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer and other diseases that can lead to ostomy surgery. The mission of Great Comebacks® is to provide information and inspiration to people facing the emotional and physical challenges of living with serious intestinal diseases and ostomy surgery. The program also aims to remove the stigma surrounding ostomy surgery and to educate patients, their families and friends, and the general public that ostomy surgery can be a second chance to fulfill dreams, and lead a full and productive life with joy and passion. For more information, please visit

About ConvaTec

ConvaTec is a leading developer and marketer of innovative medical technologies that have helped improve the lives of millions of people worldwide. With four key focus areas – Ostomy Care, Wound Therapeutics, Continence and Critical Care, and Infusion Devices – ConvaTec products support health care professionals from the hospital to the community health setting. For more information, please visit

Great Comebacks and the Great Comebacks Logo are registered trademarks of ConvaTec Inc.

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