When Dr. Nilma Z. Elias Santiago sees a nasty wound, she has a different reaction than most people. Instead of being horrified, Dr. Santiago sees an opportunity to help.
As a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in wound care, she knows how much she can improve the lives of even her most hopeless patients.
“The worse it is, the better outcome I know I’m going to get,” says Dr. Santiago, who opened the Integumentary Physiotherapy Clinic, her first private practice, inside the Regency Medical Center building in Altamonte Springs in January. “This is the way I see it: The more severe it is, I think, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m going to be able to help you so much! You’re going to be so happy!’ Then, when I’m done with the patient, they hug you, they start to cry.”
Dr. Santiago knows that her clinic’s name is a mouthful, but she specifically chose it because she wants to get the word out about her specialty. In addition to treating chronic wounds, she also specializes in treating lower extremity lymphedema (extreme swelling that is often caused by cardiac issues or cancer treatments) using Complete Decongestive Therapy and other treatment tools, such as laser therapy and electrical stimulation. She is also a certified ostomy management specialist.
“My goal is to eventually have an institute so I can train others to do what I do,” Dr. Santiago says. “I want them to fall in love with it like I did. I don’t want us to lose this skill.”
Dr. Santiago became interested in the integumentary system after she received a job offer in 2009 from a company in Central Florida.
“They asked me to be a wound-care physical therapist,” she remembers. “I was the newbie, so I told them I’d do whatever they wanted me to do.”
Dr. Santiago dove into the discipline and discovered her passion.
“I just fell in love with it,” says Dr. Santiago, who lives in Lake Mary with her husband and two children. “People who come in here, they were hopeless, and we give them hope and deliver on that hope. It makes me so happy, and it brings me so much joy to see people getting better.”