‘One day at a time’

Carol and Kevin McCarthy

Carol McCarthy’s life changed forever when her husband, Kevin, suffered a stroke earlier this year.

“I called 9-1-1, and he was taken to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital,” she shared. “While he was there, he had another stroke and was transferred to Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.”

Kevin underwent multiple tests. The cause of the strokes wasn’t clear, but doctors believed he’d had other strokes in the past.

“He was in the hospital for a long time. It was really hard. Sometimes I didn’t know how to get answers about his condition.”

Then she met Doreen Sweis, a Stroke Patient Care Liaison.

“I follow all stroke patients who come to our hospital. I act as a liaison between the clinical team, the patient and their family,” explained Doreen. “I help bridge the communication gap when there are questions, concerns or frustrations.”

Doreen proved to be an invaluable resource for Carol as well as a great listener.

“When I didn’t know who to ask about test results, Doreen was able to find the right person. She also helped get Kevin moved to a private room,” said Carol. “And there were some days when there was just no good news. She was someone I could talk to who understood what I was going through.”

It’s Doreen’s personal experience that led her to help create her current role. In 2019, her father had a minor stroke that required surgery. During the procedure, he suffered a major stroke.

“Today, my dad is doing great, but we’ve gone through every stage of the recovery process from the intensive care unit to outpatient rehab,” shared Doreen. “At the time of his strokes, I realized I needed to be a really strong advocate for him. My background is in speech pathology, but I started thinking that I could be an advocate for other stroke patients and their families too.”

The clinical team and hospital leaders recognized the need for such a position, and philanthropy helped establish it. A grant through the Advocate Lutheran General Healthcare Partners Endowment will fund the position for two years. After that, the hospital hopes to include the position as a permanent one.

An uncertain future

After a month in the hospital, Kevin was transferred to a skilled nursing facility. Doreen made sure to stay in touch.

“In addition to helping patients and families while they’re in the hospital, I also follow their progress after they’ve been discharged. Many times, they don’t know what the next steps are,” said Doreen. “I also oversee our comprehensive stroke clinic, where we see patients within a few weeks of leaving the hospital. The goal is to catch any concerns early and prevent readmission.”

For now, Doreen’s role is unique at Advocate Aurora Health. But the hope is that this role will be made possible at other hospitals in the future.

“I don’t know what I would have done without Doreen’s help and guidance. Strokes are so complex. Half the time I felt lost and didn’t know what was going on,” Carol shared. “Every facility should have someone like her.”

There is still a lot of uncertainty for the future, but the support Carol received from Doreen has meant so much.

“A stroke is one of the worst things that can happen to you. Kevin is only 63 years old,” she said. “I continue to hope for a great recovery for him. I’m just taking it one day at a time.”

How you can help

The Stroke and Neurosciences Medicine Program at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital is supported by donors like you. Please consider making a gift here.