Telling their stories: Lurie Children’s public affairs specialist retires after 22 years

Medical Watch

CHICAGO – For over two decades, Kathleen Keenan worked behind-the-scenes at the busiest children’s hospital in the city to grant unprecedented access to the masses.

After 22 years, she has decided to retire but leaves a legacy behind that has touched so many lives.

There have been thousands of stories told through the years at the hospital, from the bedside to the operating room.

But behind-the-scenes, it was Kathleen Keenan, from the public affairs department, who helped give patients and their families and audience.

“I’ve never felt confined by this job description,” Keenan said. “I know I was put here at Lurie Children’s to share the stories of the children not my stories, not what the news might want to hear, not what our donors might want to hear but to tell the stories in the voices of the children and their parents and the caregivers who watch over them.”

For 22 years, Keenan has been a foot soldier on the hospital’s floors. She doesn’t have a medical degree, but Keenan is a caregiver by making connections.

In 1999, Keenan helped connect WGN viewers on a story about a doctor’s unusual but effective prescription involving M&M’s for a young patient.

“I learned early on if someone would listen to their story or care to tell, they were just on cloud 9. It made them so happy,” Keenan said.

The short story evolved into a documentary where WGN crews spent a month inside the pediatric intensive care unit documenting extraordinary patients and their care. Keenan was there every step of the way.

When the hospital moved to a newly built facility downtown in 2012, Keenan helped WGN viewers see the rise of Lurie Children’s Hospital.

“With kids being able to tell their own story and what they are going through in the way that Kathleen so gently brings it out,” said nurse Allison Parise. “It’s therapeutic for everybody.”

Keenan has pulled off a few miracles of her own, including a surprise visit for Drake super fan Sofia Sanchez, who was awaiting a heart transplant.

When Keenan announced her retirement this fall, those who witnesses her deep devotion knew the hospital would never be the same.

“This transition is not about leaving. A great way to look at a great love,” Keenan said. “And when you lose it, it never dies, it just lives in a quieter, softer part of your soul, and that’s how I feel about Lurie Children’s.”

An avid life-long writer and photographer herself, Keenan and her daughter Beth, who also works at Lurie as a child life specialist, wrote a book dedicated to all the patients they have come to know so dearly over the years.

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