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March 18, 2015

United Way: why we invest

woman at podium
Juliet Sullivan (above), speaks at the United Way kickoff breakfast.

United Way of Greater Rochester helps many people throughout the region, including the family of Juliet Sullivan, an academic counselor with the College Center for Advising Services.

Sullivan, whose husband had a brain hemorrhage in 2009, shared her story—and her gratitude for all the United Way has done for her family—at the University’s United Way campaign kickoff breakfast March 5:

“In 2004, I married the sweetest, kindest, smartest man in the world. My husband, Bill Sullivan, grew up in Rochester, was trained in biostatistics and epidemiology, and worked for the City of Rochester as a researcher. He loved to discuss politics, Star Trek, and baseball. He was a devoted father who cried at the births of our daughters, who beamed with pride at each new accomplishment they displayed. And he treated me as if I were a queen. We had a happy life together.

“On Dec. 14, 2009, I awoke to a terrifying sight. Bill was staggering around our bedroom, making garbled, frightening noises. He collapsed onto our bed, began to vomit, and lost consciousness. He could barely breathe. I knew that he was having a brain hemorrhage. Bill had had two of them as an adolescent, caused by an arteriovenous malformation, a birth defect in his brain. He had made a miraculous recovery right here at Strong [Memorial Hospital]. He had undergone extensive embolization procedures. We believed he would never have another bleed.

woman at podium
Juliet and Bill and their daughters Molly and Josie.

“I called 911, and Bill was rushed again to Strong. I truly believed that Bill would be okay. He was young, only 41 years old, and in excellent health. We had two little girls—a three-year-old and a three-month-old. Surely, surely, he would be okay. When news came, it was very bad indeed. Bill was essentially brain dead. His body did not respond to pain. His pupils did not respond to light. His intercranial pressure was so high that his brain was like a rock. Bill’s only chance for survival would be a craniectomy—the surgical removal of part of his skull to relieve the terrible pressure in his brain. Yet even with this surgery, his chance for survival was low—only 10 percent. And yet, miraculously, the surgery worked. Slowly, Bill came back to life. Or perhaps I should say he was reborn.

“After being in a month-long coma, Bill began to wake up. But the new self that emerged was a very different one. Bill could no longer walk. He could no longer talk. For about a year, Bill fought to regain those skills. He went to four different rehabilitation facilities. He endured two more surgeries and another coma. His condition would improve, and then decline. As the months passed, I finally began to accept that the old Bill was gone and that he wasn’t coming back.

“Because of the magnitude of Bill’s brain injury, he lived in a nearby nursing home. The staff there gave him skillful care, but my husband was not happy. He pined for home. My children and I visited as often as we could, but Bill missed us terribly. And yet how could I—a working mother of two little girls—possibly bring him home and care for him? Bill needs constant supervision. How could I possibly bathe Bill, change Bill, feed Bill, and simultaneously care for our daughters? And yet how could I possibly deny my loving husband his dearest wish?

“And here, my friends, is where YOU enter the picture. Because whether you know it or not, you helped bring Bill home. Through Catholic Charities Community Services (a United Way–funded agency), a service coordinator helped us set up the staff and supplies we needed for Bill to live at home.

Our Goal

As of March 16, the University has raised $877,234 toward its goal of $1.4 million in the 2015 United Way campaign.

Faculty and staff can give to the campaign through the ePledge system, a confidential online donation tool.

View the campaign video,  learn more about the campaign, and see your department’s participation.

Through HCR [Home Care], another United Way–funded agency, Bill was able to receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Through Happiness House, yet another United Way–funded organization, Bill socialized with his peers with brain injuries. And now, thanks to the gentle guidance of Visiting Nurse Hospice Service, we are gearing up to support my husband through the next steps on his journey.

“Living with a spouse with a traumatic brain injury is not easy. Despite the scary moments and the sad moments, there are a million and one sweet moments. When I come home from work, Bill beams, delighted to see me. He watches his daughters with proud amazement. On rare and precious occasions, he can tell us ‘I love you.’ He clearly, clearly loves to be with us all. And we love to be with him, to bask in the warmth of his love.

“These happy moments are the most precious thing life can offer any of us. They are fragile and fleeting, at least for my family, but they give life its power, its beauty, its meaning. These moments of joy are due to YOU, to your generosity in funding the agencies that care for Bill. My family is whole because of you. You have made it possible for Bill to live at home with the people who love him. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”

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