Patient Stories

How The ‘Sickest Person in the Hospital’ Found Healing

At one point during her stay at Unity Hospital, doctors told Kay Sullivan she was the sickest patient who was there. Thanks to the hard work of countless medical staff, she is now home and living her normal life.

Jul. 7, 2023

Kay Sullivan and her husband at their 50th wedding anniversary party

When Kay Sullivan, 74, looks back on her extended stay at Unity Hospital now, she talks through it with ease – like sharing the story of a surprise birthday party with a dear friend.

Once Kay gets into the details about her hospital stay, however, it’s incredible that she is telling her story now. Kay’s medical history led to scar tissue developing in her abdomen and, eventually, an intestinal obstruction. Her medical journey would lead her to meet nearly every medical care team at Unity – all of whom earned her praise and admiration.

Finding care at Unity Hospital

During a standard procedure in 2018, surgeons discovered a tumor that led to a major surgery for Kay. Over the course of several hours, Kay underwent a hysterectomy and had 14 inches of her small intestine removed. After the procedure, she had a colostomy bag for 6 months before undergoing another surgery to reconnect her intestines.

Kay’s life returned to normal for the next year or so. But in 2019, she started having digestive problems and was diagnosed with diverticulitis. During a particularly difficult episode, she ended up going to the Emergency Department at Unity Hospital and was found to have a bowel obstruction.

Kay’s case found its way into the hands of Pasquale Iannoli, MD, who was able to help her find a non-surgical option to relieve the obstruction. After a few days recovering in the hospital, Kay went back home.

Once again, the next several months went by with no significant health issues for Kay – until one night in January 2020 when she became extremely ill. Kay’s husband, David, brought her back to the Emergency Department at Unity Hospital with severe abdominal pain.

“Before I knew it, I was in the emergency department,” Kay said. “The doctors and nurses said it was serious. I just remember waking up in Unity Hospital in a room.”

‘I had a guardian angel’

After running a number of tests, doctors determined Kay’s small intestine had ruptured. After meeting with Brent Miller, DO, a surgical team opened up her abdomen and began a multi-phase operation, but she developed peritonitis – a severe infection of the abdominal cavity. Because the inflammation was so severe, that phase of Kay’s surgery was halted – requiring her to wait 4-5 days with an open abdominal incision so the swelling would subside.

“I remember they took out more of my small intestine with a small bowel resection,” Kay said. “I don't remember a lot. I just remember a lot of good care. Dr. Iannoli told me at one point that I was the sickest person in the whole hospital. He was very understanding and explained why things were a certain way and what the test results meant. The same went for Dr. Miller. I really feel like I had a guardian angel getting the two doctors that I had. If I had to do it over again, they would be my choices again.”

Unity Hospital, along with Clifton Springs Hospital & Clinic and Newark Wayne Community Hospital, earned prestigious verification status from the American College of Surgeons in Geriatric Surgery, which shows their unwavering commitment to enhancing surgical care and achieving favorable outcomes for older patients such as Kay. In addition to meeting the rigorous standards set by the American College of Surgeons, the Geriatric Surgical Program at each of these hospitals ensures a comprehensive dedicated team of professionals, including therapy experts, hospital medicine specialists, nursing professionals, anesthesiologists, and other essential fields, work together to develop a personalized care plans that cater to the unique needs of each patient.

From ‘the sickest person’ to no medication

Kay remained in the hospital over the next 4-6 weeks, recuperating and working to be able to live at home. She worked with dieticians to reintroduce her body to different types of food, physical therapists to rehabilitate her body for regular daily movements, wound care specialists to care for her incisions and avoid re-infection, and social workers to develop a plan for what would come next once she was discharged from the hospital.

“Even when people came in to clean the room, they tried to be really quiet - like little fairies around in the room to keep it clean,” Kay said. “The nurses always came in with a warm blanket to cover me up, and they moved the pillows and changed the mattress.”

After spending several weeks at Unity Hospital, Kay was moved to a rehabilitation facility where she spent several weeks regaining her strength. Now she has been back home for nearly 3 years and is living her regular life with her husband in Spencerport.

Despite the fact that her doctors told her she was the ‘sickest person in the hospital’, Kay is no longer taking any medication related to her hospitalization. She is back to shopping and driving around to meet her friends and family.

Having received care from so many different teams at Unity, Kay has nothing but good things to say about everyone who helped her during her stay.

“I would love all of the hospital staff to know what a great job they did,” Kay said. “They chose the right career because they delivered everything the way someone who would need it would want it.”

NEXT STEPS Safe, High-Quality Surgical Care for All Adults

With highly-qualified physicians and nationally-recognized surgical programs, Rochester Regional Health provides a broad range of surgical care personalized to each patient's need. Whether it's general surgery, plastic surgery, advanced neurosurgery, or vascular surgery, our team of surgical experts work collaboratively to provide the best surgical outcomes for every patient.

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Pasquale Iannoli, MD
Bariatrics, Surgery
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Brent P. Miller, DO
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