Her Second Chance: Assistant Dean Audrey Guy is making the most of life after receiving a heart transplant
By Laura Janota
Roosevelt Review, Fall 2012 [ PDF ]
When Roosevelt University alumna
Tonja Williams learned recently that
there was no record of her 2010 diploma,
she called her former advisor, Assistant
Dean Audrey Guy, in a panic.
"I knew if there was anyone who
could help straighten things out, it would
be Audrey," said Williams, a Cook County
Juvenile Court paralegal and a two-time
graduate of Roosevelt's Evelyn T. Stone
College of Professional Studies (CPS).
A trouble shooter, resource for college
success and role model, Guy is a vital
link for the College's 1,100 students and
thousands of alumni, like Williams.
"Audrey is a very important part of
our college, and she plays a vital role in
making things operate smoothly," said
Greg Buckley, interim dean at CPS.
A lifelong resident of Chicago's Roseland
community and a Roosevelt alumna
with a 2002 Master's degree in Training
and Development from CPS, Guy, 56, also
is one of the University's unsung heroes—
a heart-transplant survivor whose second
chance at life has renewed her purpose in
helping others achieve their best.
"I encourage all individuals, especially
my students, to pursue their dreams,"
said Guy, who received a new heart from
an unknown donor on Dec. 21, 2011.
just never, ever know what's going to
happen," she said.
Since 1999, Guy has quietly assisted
hundreds of primarily adult students,
many with college credits from multiple
institutions, through the requirements
for a CPS degree or certificate – most
often working closely with those seeking
fast-track bachelor's degrees.
Some of the most popular fast-track
majors are business, sociology and history,
but as the College's Assistant Professor
of Criminal Justice Tana McCoy notes:
"We've got a pretty complex curricula
here with many, many majors," including
psychology, hospitality and tourism
management, organizational leadership,
criminal justice, paralegal studies and
sustainability, to name but a few.
"It takes someone like Audrey to fully
understand all of the requirements and
to know how to convey that information
to students," added McCoy. "She is simply
the best person I've ever worked with
when it comes to student advising."
Guy's interest in helping students get
through college began to take shape as
the result of previous office work experiences
at the Legal Assistance Foundation
of Chicago and the Illinois Department of
Children and Family Services (DCFS).
"I saw people who were too poor to
have jobs due to their lack of education at
the Legal Assistance Foundation and I saw
families unable to cope with incredible
crises at DCFS," said Guy, who also has an
associate's degree from Chicago City Colleges
and a bachelor's in business management
from Chicago State University.
"I realized that people must have a
college education if they are to get ahead,"
said Guy. "I thought I could make a difference
by working with college students."
Hired by then-CPS Dean Laura Evans,
Guy worked first as a secretary and then
as an administrator, taking it upon herself
to call students, reminding them of
requirements they would need to fulfill in
order to graduate.
"She was identified as a self-starter
right from the beginning," recalled Evans,
professor of organizational leadership
at CPS. "She has always been able to
outline precisely what a student needs
to do and why."
"Her happiest moment is when our
students walk across the Auditorium
Theatre stage on graduation day," added
Evans. "She's always been there to take
graduates' pictures and to wish them
well as they take their next step ahead."
Like many single mothers juggling
family and career, Guy also has always
been incredibly busy, at times feeling
under the gun of stress.
"When I was little, she was working
full time and going to school full
time," said Guy's 36-year-old daughter,
Nakia Patterson, an accountant who has
followed in her mother's footsteps, obtaining
a Bachelor's degree in Business
Management from DePaul University in
2001 and a Master's degree in Human
Resource Management from Roosevelt
University in 2005.
"She used to tell me that a high
school diploma would not be enough
to get ahead," added Patterson, who
describes her mother as an "incredibly
hard worker" who always wanted a
better life for herself, Patterson and Patterson's
daughter, now 10 years of age.
Guy acknowledges having paid little
attention to her health until one day in
mid-2010 when she felt out of breath while
doing some landscaping at her church. "I
dismissed it as being part of life and the
fact that I was getting older," she said.
About six months later at age 55, Guy
began having trouble breathing when she
tried to sleep. It became so bad that she
feared lying down. After a week of these
bouts, she asked her daughter, on Feb. 25,
2011, to take her to the emergency room
at University of Chicago Medical Center.
"I assumed she wasn't eating right and
that the doctors would give her something
for heartburn and send her home,"
Instead, Guy was wheeled away for
testing for a possible heart attack. Doctors showed her a list of symptoms: fatigue,
shortness of breath, chest pain, upperbody
aches, sweating, nausea, light-headedness,
Recognizing at once that she had six of
eight symptoms, Guy recalls thinking "Oh,
my Lord." "Unless you know to connect
the dots," she says today, "you don't realize
that it's something you should have
checked out immediately."
That is a chief reason why Guy – hoping
to help others before it is too late – is
choosing to tell her story.
The first night after being checked in
at the hospital, her heart stopped completely.
"If I had not gone in to the emergency
room and I hadn't been hooked up
to those machines, I'd be dead right now,"
said Guy, who woke up surrounded by doctors and nurses with paddles that shocked
her heart into beating again.
The doctors said her heart was enlarged,
possibly as a result of a virus or a thyroid
problem, its muscle power getting weaker by
the day. "I was afraid of death, but now I'm
not afraid anymore," said Guy, who accepted
the news that she'd need a new heart quite
She quit smoking; she lost weight; she
took powerful rhythm-regulating medications
for nearly a year to keep her heart going
while awaiting a transplant; she underwent
multiple tests to assure her health was
otherwise fine and that she was cancer free.
And all the time she kept working, advising
students on what they needed to do to get
through college and get their degrees.
The phone call came at 3:53 p.m. on Dec.
20, 2011. Guy was at her office desk. The woman
from University of Chicago Medical Center
said, "Miss Guy? We have a heart for you."
"I couldn't process it," said Guy. "I said to
her, 'You have a what?' She told me, 'We have
a donor for you and I need you to come to the
hospital right away.'"
Brad Hunt, associate professor of social
sciences, was an associate dean at CPS and
in the office at the time. "She came into my
office and said, 'OK, time to go. They've got
a heart for me.' She was clearly nervous but
mentally prepared," he recalled. "Then, she
turned around and marched out. It was
like, 'Oh my, she's leaving to get a heart!' It
was truly an amazing moment," he said.
Guy remembers the bus ride to University
of Chicago Medical Center, which does
approximately 25 heart transplants a year."All of my senses were heightened.
I could smell the rain and the color of the
sky and trees were so vivid," she said.
Guy told loved ones, including her
daughter, "'If I don't make it through the
surgery, I want you to donate my organs to
help someone else.' I had come to realize after
all I'd gone through that if I didn't donate
them, my organs would just go to dust."
The surgery took eight hours. The doctors
declared the heart a good match and
fit for her body. Home from the hospital
on Jan. 12 and back at work by March 21,
she continues to hold her own with help
from medications she must take for the
rest of her life. They prevent her body from
rejecting the new heart, and her second
chance at life.
"When this new heart became available
and the reality of it hit, Audrey recommitted
herself to herself, to others, to
her job, to our students," said Gary Wolfe,
professor of humanities and English at
CPS. "She'd always been committed," Wolfe
added, "but I think she realized that this
new heart was a gift."
Since the transplant, Guy, who never
knew how to swim, has taken up swimming
lessons. She's happily paying for her
granddaughter's dancing lessons, as Guy,
growing up, had always dreamed of being a
ballerina. The jewelry-making business she
started, primarily as therapy while waiting
for a heart, has its own website at www.guys2ndchance.com. At press time, she
was hoping to make contact with her heart
donor's family to say thanks.
Williams, the Roosevelt alumna who
called Guy for help one day last June to
amend the record for her Master's in Training
and Development diploma, was surprised
to learn about the heart transplant.
"Audrey? A heart transplant? I couldn't
believe it at first," said Williams. She wasn't
surprised, though, that Guy had never mentioned
it. "She's private with this stern exterior,"
Williams said of her long-time advisor.
"But inside, she's this softie who goes out of
her way to help you. She has the right kind
of spirit, and it speaks well for Roosevelt
University," Williams said.
As for the diploma-date crisis, Williams
remembers Guy springing into quick action.
"She (Guy) just told me straight: 'This is
something we can handle,'" said Williams,
who, with Guy's help, got the diploma record
amended with a note showing coursework
toward the 2012 degree was completed two
Helping students is now more important
than ever to Guy. "If students don't know
what to do or where to start, start with me,"
she said. "Don't wait until the last minute
to cry out for help. My whole thing is to let
students know I'm here if and when they
Williams, one of nearly 100 current and
former students Guy helps each year, has
observed that there is something different
about her. "It's something in her voice – a
kind of drive, an indomitable spirit – and
it makes you realize she is really in your
corner, she is not giving up, and neither
Guy would be the first to second that
insight. "The whole purpose of a heart transplant
is to continue on with life, complete your
goals and make a difference. Otherwise, why
get it?" she said. "I'm taking it one day a time
now and doing with each day all that I can."