Emily Roosevelt has spent so much time at University Hospital in recent years, many people think she's on staff.
Yet the 39-year-old wife and mother of two is an attorney who loves to ski and would rather spend time anywhere but the hospital. But when officials tapped the heart-transplant recipient to be master of ceremonies for Thursday's open house following completion of the hospital's decade-long, $200 million expansion, she agreed.
She has come to understand that her friends there don't take her aversion to medical treatment personally. In fact, they hope someday she won't need to return.
"This new hospital design is constructed in a very different way," she said. "Instead of being built for what works best for doctors, nurses and staff, the needs of the patient are No. 1."
Roosevelt has had ailments ranging from thyroid cancer and abdominal surgery to a heart transplant last summer, only 10 days after doctors listed her on the national donor registry. Though she was born with congenital heart disease, she had never experienced physical limitations until severe fatigue sent her to see cardiologists.
The deterioration in her heart was so dramatic, she was listed for transplant quickly, and doctors wondered whether she would survive long enough to receive a donor heart.
"She could have given up and said I'm going to die," said Dr. Angela Yetman, who treated Roosevelt. "But she remained strong emotionally and spiritually."
When the phone call came so soon after she had been listed for transplant, Roosevelt said she didn't feel she'd had time to process things mentally and wasn't sure "about whether I would see my boys again."
"Obviously I made it — I'm here," she said to applause from scores of hospital personnel and residents who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Dr. Loris Betz, senior vice president for health sciences at the U., said stories like Roosevelt's "encourage each of us to strive to be our very best." He lauded those who established the medical school more than 100 years ago as a two-year program with 14 students.
As its personnel, expertise and facilities have expanded over the past century, the new expansion "is not palatial or fancy, but it does help us provide the kind of care" that helped save Roosevelt's life, he said.
"It means patients like her don't have to leave the state to get the best specialized care in the world," Betz said, noting Roosevelt had the option of choose two Eastern medical centers whose reputations may have drawn her elsewhere.
David Entwistle, the hospital's chief executive officer, said his own recent experience as a patient there following a biking accident several weeks ago helped him appreciate "how well the system works."
He and U. President Michael Young thanked medical professionals, staff, patients and donors for the role they played, even if only in putting up with the inconvenience of construction. Donors were generous, as were employees, who put up $1.2 million toward financing the expansion, Entwistle said.
Young said community support was vital and reminded hospital employees that the new expansion is "simply a way point" in the future growth of University Hospital, both in facilities and reputation.
U. Hospital expansion features
120 new private patient rooms
New patient admitting area, outpatient pharmacy in lobby
Inpatient food service, cafeteria
Shelled space for future growth and updated mechanical services.