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Audrey Guy, Assistant Dean of the Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional Studies

Her Second Chance: Assistant Dean Audrey Guy is making the most of life after receiving a heart transplant

Posted: 12/05/2012

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).

She is really in your corner, she is not giving up, and neither should you -- Alumni Tonja Williams
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.

"You 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.

Audrey Guy, Assistant Dean, speaks with a student

"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," recalled Patterson. 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, ankle swelling. 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 courageously. 

The purpose of a heart transplant is to continue with your life, complete your goals and make a difference. Otherwise, why get it?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."

Audrey Guy jewelrySince 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 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 years earlier.

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 need me."

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 should you."

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."

Last updated 06/01/2015