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Patient Stories

From Patient to Employee

Former Patient Is Inspired to Work at Marianjoy

For the last eight years, Robert Riley has been walking the halls of Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine, as manager of Patient Relations and Guest Services. But less than a decade ago, he was a patient recovering from back-to-back strokes in the very rooms he visits today.

On a Sunday in March 2010, Riley came home from church, stumbled and fell. He also had a headache. Robert went to bed that evening, but awoke in the middle of the night. He lifted his leg, and it fell. The next thing he knew, his 6-year-old daughter was asking him if he was OK and if she should call 911. He had fallen again.

“At that point, I could see my daughter, but I couldn’t think of her name,” Riley says. “I knew my body was shutting down.”

Robert decided to drive himself to a nearby hospital. “I knew something was going on because my hand kept sliding off the wheel, but I didn’t know what it was,” he says. “I thought it could be a heart attack, but when my hand fell off the wheel completely, I realized I was having a stroke.”

When Robert arrived at the hospital, it was determined that he had experienced a transient ischemic attack, or a “mini-stroke.” While he was at the hospital, he had a second stroke; this time, it was a right-sided hemorrhagic stroke. Robert was in the hospital for a few days when he fell out of his hospital bed. That’s when his care team recommended that he transfer to Marianjoy.

First Moments at Marianjoy

Robert’s first memory of Marianjoy was a care team member greeting him the evening he arrived. “She said, ‘We’ve been expecting you,’” he says. “Those four words had such an impact on me that I train my team to greet new patients this way.”

Robert began speech, physical and occupational therapy. He initially had challenges with swallowing, and he couldn’t walk. “You take my independence away, and that’s hard,” he says. “I cried my first day at Marianjoy. I didn’t know if I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I kept thinking that I have a young child; I am too young for this.”

He was determined to carry on. When he was discharged, he was still using a wheelchair, but his inpatient physical therapist helped him build the strength needed to start to stand. During his two months of outpatient therapy, he gradually moved to a walker and eventually took his first steps.

A Future Filled With Hope

Today, Robert says he is 100%. In fact, he was so inspired by his one-month inpatient stay and outpatient therapy experience at Marianjoy that just a couple of months after he was discharged from therapy, he began to volunteer on the Transport team at Marianjoy two days a week. Eventually, he took a registry on-call position. By the end of 2011, he was hired in his current position.

“When you’re a patient here, you don’t want to let go,” he says. “I wanted to be a part of the team of people who helped me so that I could help other people.”

Robert also serves as a patient advocate, speaking with patients who have experienced a stroke.

“Marianjoy is the only rehabilitation hospital I recommend because not only do they have advanced technology to help you heal, they genuinely have a caring spirit here,” Robert says. “The team takes the time to be patient and empathetic, and it shines through in every staff member, every leader, every physician. They want to be here, and they want to be here for you.”

“I heard people talk about how incredible Marianjoy was, but I had no idea of how many miracles happen here,” Robert says. “My experience, my life today, is confirmation of those miracles.”