Veronica Jimenez doesn’t think of herself as a hero, even as she walked across the stage this week to accept a pharmacy diploma that gave her the skills to save her father’s life.
Jimenez, a 26-year-old Archer Heights native who will start her career at a Wal-Mart pharmacy, is the only Latina among the first graduating class of Roosevelt University’s new College of Pharmacy. She looks forward to using her bilingual expertise in her new job.
The 61 students received their diplomas in a ceremony Thursday at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and Hotel.
While earning her degree, Jimenez and her fellow students learned how to write what’s known as a “soap note” — a detailed but no-nonsense description that pharmacists use to tell doctors what’s wrong with a patient.
Jimenez’s coursework, her budding confidence and her soap-note expertise worked just in time to allow her to push for a second opinion after her father was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Just as Jimenez started working in required rotations last fall — hers was at a Walgreens drugstore — her father, Jesus, started having symptoms of short-term memory loss.
“My dad has lived here forever, and he knows the city like the back of his hand,” Veronica Jimenez said. “One day, he went out for a cruise in my cousin’s new sports car and said he felt like he was lost. At work, he was becoming very spacey.”
Jesus Jimenez’s co-workers at a carpet-sales store warehouse gave him tasks to keep him occupied, as it became clear he could no longer work as the warehouse foreman.
By November, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer — glioblastoma — and told he would have to go home to die.
“It’s an aggressive type of cancer,” Veronica Jimenez said. “Most people die within 12 months of the diagnosis.”
Doctors declined to do surgery on the 60-year-old Jimenez to reroute fluid that had built up on his brain. They pointed to his weakened condition: He had lost 30 pounds — shrinking his already small 5-foot-9-inch frame to 130 pounds — and could no longer walk or talk.
“It was rough,” his daughter said. “You feel helpless. When he was healthy, he had worked six days a week, eight or more hours a day and was always active.”
“My dad was always Superman to me,” she said. “I thought, ‘There has to be something out there. Maybe someone else will have a different plan for us.’”
A friend told her to Google doctors who specialize in neural oncology. She looked over the results and chose Dr. Rimas Lukas, a neuro oncologist at the University of Chicago Medical Center and an assistant professor at the Pritzker School of Medicine.
Jimenez wrote a soap note to Lukas, making the case that she wanted a second opinion. She knew that a shunt could drain excess fluid building up in her father’s brain.
“I could have written a book, but I had to keep it short and simple, and make sure the doctor had the most important information,” she said of her note.
Lukas, a native of Evergreen Park, took her email seriously. “She knew what the diagnosis was, and she was able to very adeptly convey the key bits of information,” he said.
Jesus was admitted to the University of Chicago Medical Center the next day, put on chemotherapy and given the shunt to drain the fluid.
“He is continuing to respond to the front-line therapy nicely,” Lukas said. “This will be a serious disease for the rest of his life. My goal is to keep it at bay and shrink things down and allow him to have a good quality of life.”
“The patient is a wonderful guy,” Lukas said. “He has had the tremendous support of his family, which is a major plus.”
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