Lisa Pearlman, Patient and Family Advisor

Leda and Lisa

A few months ago, my mom was transported via ambulance from a hospital in Rockford, Illinois, to UW Health for emergency brain surgery. Within ten minutes of arriving, we knew we were somewhere special. The medical team greeted us and welcomed us with a smile. We were terrified; they were calm.  We were nervous; they were reassuring. Their overall message to us was, “You're in the best possible place and we’ve got this.” What more could we ask for? Everyone here has been incredibly compassionate at every turn. My mom had successful brain surgery the next morning and that was the beginning of our journey here, as well as my vow to give back to this wonderful hospital.


Here’s one example, out of dozens, I’d like to share of the compassion we’ve received here: We were having an intense day of back-to-back follow-up appointments back in December, following my mom's discharge from the rehab hospital, with various specialists, including Dr. Toby Campbell, my Mom's oncologist. Dr. Campbell was listening to my mom share her concerns about her diagnosis. She was overwhelmed and scared. He pulled out a piece of paper and wrote a message to her. It said, “Let me do the worrying. – Toby” We were so touched by this unbelievably kind gesture. The note is still on my parents’ refrigerator. It’s so simple, yet so extraordinary.  In the days leading up to our arrival in Madison, I prayed for guidance. We were in crisis. We were afraid. We didn’t know how to proceed following a terrifying diagnosis. Dr. Campbell is one example of an answered prayer and how we, as a family, felt like we hit the lottery of support.


When my mom was going through radiation, she was very concerned about hair loss. Sometimes she would ask the same questions over and over to each nurse we saw. We’d gently say, ‘Mom, they already answered that,’ but nurses and staff were quick to say, “It’s ok, you can ask again!” Their patience and kindness made my mom feel so much better, which made us feel better, too.


The truth is, we don’t know how much time we have left with Mom, but we do know what we’re up against. However, knowing that Mom is truly getting the best possible care here is a huge relief.  This has been a life-changing experience for my family. I am a big believer in finding something positive out of something negative. Mom’s care here has been one of the blessings we’ve experienced and the biggest positive we could wish for and receive.  I knew back in December that I would like to volunteer here and I have since become a patient and family advisor (PFA), am serving on my first committee, and have been accepted into the Consumer Health Advocacy Certificate Program through UW-Madison to become a patient advocate.  I will begin classes in a few weeks. I will make lemonade out of these lemons and help others down the road who are experiencing their own medical crises.


The note from Dr. Campbell still hangs on her parents’ refrigerator.

One thought that drives my desire to become a patient advocate and to change careers at a time when most of my friends are beginning to think about retirement is wondering how patients go through these situations all alone.  There are so many individuals who are living alone and don’t have family nearby to help them. It is my hope that after I complete the certificate program, I can fill this void for people going through life-changing health crises on their own and I can be their voice and advocate for them as they navigate through this complicated healthcare road.  


Just last week, my mom returned to UW Health for a second brain surgery and once again, she has received excellent care.  I have such love in my heart for this hospital. I don’t see it as the place where we received bad news; I see it as the place (the people!) that gave us more time with Mom and saved her life. It’s made a huge difference in our lives. It’s shown us that so much good can come out of unexpected and difficult circumstances.


We are forever grateful to my mom’s doctors, nurses, nurse assistants, health unit coordinators, as well as all of the kind and compassionate employees here who have made a difference in our lives by just simply asking us how we are doing or by giving us a smile as we walked past each other in the hallways.


This is the seventh hospital I’ve stepped into since September of 2016 and I can say, with confidence, that UW Health is an outstanding facility that should serve as a model for so many other hospitals. I will continue to show my gratitude and give back for as long as possible and will hopefully inspire others to make lemonade with the lemons life often throws at us.


- Lisa Pearlman, Leda’s daughter, and Patient and Family Advisor



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