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From Germany to Alvarado, Texas. For Jo Tilley, nurse practitioner, Cook Children's Stroke Clinic, those more than 5,000 miles are what separated seven formative school years and her high school senior year.
"I'm an army brat," Jo shared. "But when my dad retired, we settled in Alvarado. I've called North Texas home for almost 30 years now."
During her seven years in Germany, in the midst of Operation Desert Storm, Jo went to an international school with kids from all over the world, which made from a very enriching educational environment. Since there was not a military base during the operation, she and the other students endured a daily two-hour bus ride to and from school. "It was torture," she said with a laugh.
Having this unique education setting gave her a broader perspective of the world and people, which would undoubtedly help her as she ventured into a career in nursing, as she worked for JPS in a primary care clinic.
"While running the county clinic as the nurse practitioner, I never thought I would leave," Jo said. "I served the uninsured, impoverished children. So there was a very clear need we were filling. But as I finished my doctorate, I felt the pull to do more above and beyond the traditional nurse practitioner role."
At the suggestion of a student who worked for Cook Children's Neurology, she interviewed with the director of Neurology in the fall of 2013 and shortly, thereafter, started in our neuro rehab unit.
As she was orienting, she was approached by Fernando Acosta, M.D., who along with Marcela Torres, M.D., run the stroke clinic. "On that very first day, on the floor getting started, Dr. Acosta steered me to the stroke clinic," she recalled. "That was it for me. That immediately started a passion for those patients and that work."
At the time, the stroke clinic was primarily outpatient care. That would change in 2017, when Dr. Torres would receive an endowment to expand the stroke clinic to fully provide both outpatient and inpatient care. This patient population resonates and truly touches Jo because of the sheer resilience these kids and young adults exhibit.
"Their resiliency through all they must work through to get to recovery is easily the most rewarding part of this job," she said. "It's absolutely amazing."
Even though they are a small team, Jo explains that the care and experience of the patients can have an even bigger impact beyond that one patient's story.
"We had a patient who came to us having at the time of her stroke and she was unable to speak or use her right side due to her condition," Jo recalled. "I followed her from presentation at the Medical Center through to the neuro rehab unit. Today, she's walking independently and about to graduate with an associate's degree in social work. I believe her time here at Cook Children's and all she went through with us is why she now wants to help other people."
Such a tale is the definition of a success story and the fact that it will have a butterfly effect is humbling. Because of the care and assistance she received here, she will carry on that same spirit of helpfulness with others.
With numerous, similar patients that Jo has seen through the years, it makes sense that she is a strong advocate for educating the public and her peers about the dangers of stroke and ways we can help intervene.
"Early detection is key; so it's necessary for us to raise awareness that symptoms for children are the same as they are for adults," Jo said. "We need those acute interventions very early to improve the child's prognosis and drastically improve their outcomes." Learn more about the B.E. F.A.S.T. method for recognizing the signs of a stroke.
Improving outcomes for our patients is not just isolated to the stroke clinic and Jo credits that universal commitment to our Promise as what makes Cook Children's special. "We are true to our mission," she said. "This is truly a place where there's ongoing education and programs to try and advance therapies and treatment management. So, it's not just about what's going on here and now. There's a mindset of 'How can we make this better for our kids?'"
That collective approach that she touts of being forward-thinking for the sake of the patient is exactly why together we excel. Because #WeAreCookChildrens.