Patient reunites with doctor, nurse she credits for saving her life

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

press conference photo 9-1


Submitted photo

Michelle Bruno (right) thanks Dr. Theodore Toerne and nurse Margie Barry-Sheerin that she credits for saving her life for their quick actions when she arrived at Advocate Christ Hospital 10 years ago.


Advocate Christ Medical Center was the scene of a happy and tearful reunion on Aug. 23 as two medical staff members met with a woman whose life was saved by their quick actions at the hospital 10 years ago.

Michelle Bruno, 26, had tears in her eyes when she met Dr. Theodore Toerne and nurse Margie Barry-Sheerin. Bruno, who grew up in Oak Lawn, was 16 at the time and a student at Mother McAuley High School when she was taken to the hospital because she felt very ill. She credits both Toerne and Barry-Sheerin with saving her life when she was brought to the emergency room with a high fever and strange blotches on her body.

Bruno said that it was due to her amazing recovering and the impact Toerne and Barry-Sheerin had that motivated her to become a nurse. She is now working at the same Oak Lawn hospital where she said her life was saved.

“I knew she was really sick and when I saw the blotches I immediately alerted Dr. Toerne,” said Barry-Sheerin. “I knew it wasn’t just the flu and I knew it was bad. I didn’t want to scare her parents, but I knew we had to act. I didn’t send her into the waiting area, which was the normal procedure. If we had done that, she would not have survived.”

It was only one of the many decisions that day that Toerne and Barry-Sheerin said miraculously saved Bruno’s life.

“She was at death’s door,” said Toerne. “She was white as a ghost. The bluish-red blotches on her skin indicated her blood was not coagulating properly. We realized it was meningococcemia, a very severe bacterial infection of the lining of the brain, spinal cord and bloodstream. It is serious and can be fatal. We had to act fast, her condition was rapidly deteriorating. ”

Toerne said he has only seen three cases of it in his 25-year career in emergency medicine. In fatal cases, death can occur in as little as a few hours.

“We don’t know what causes it, but fortunately, there is now a vaccine for it,” said Toerne. “In Michelle’s case, the bacteria was growing so fast we could practically see it growing. She had passed out and we had to intubate her immediately. We pumped nine liters of fluid into her in less than 45 minutes.”

He acknowledged it was a team effort on the part of the emergency crew who was on hand that day. He compared it to a race track where drivers pull into the pit and the pit team all have a specific job to do and they do it and get the driver back on the track.

“That is how it worked that day, everyone was where they were supposed to be and knew what they had to do and they did it,” Toerne said. “Michelle is my most memorable patient. Her case touched my life and all of the nurses and doctors who worked to resuscitate her that day. It was one time in my life I knew we needed help from a higher power and everything just clicked in and worked smoothly. In my 25 years I feel like I have only saved one life…hers.”

Barry-Sheerin, an Oak Lawn resident, has been a nurse for 32 years. She was really touched when she learned that Bruno had become a nurse because of her experience in the hospital 10 years ago.

“I am so proud of you,” she said to Michelle.

Barry-Sheerin also told her that it was divine intervention that day that helped everything work as smoothly as it did.

“Someone was looking out for you that day. It was a team effort in the ER and thanks to your mom (Oak Lawn resident Hilda Litto) for bringing you in when she did. Dr. Toerne and I still talk about that miraculous day.”

Bruno was unconscious for two days and remained in the hospital for two weeks. After returning home, she was able to return to school within a couple of weeks. While meningococcemia can often cause permanent disabilities in non-fatal cases, she had no repercussions and was able to return to a normal life.

“I am so grateful to everyone who was there,” said Bruno, with tears in her eyes. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all of you. I know my care was in very special hands.”

Bruno said that the experience was a turning point in her life.

“I knew I wanted to help people like I had been helped. It truly inspired me to embark on this very rewarding career.”

A lifelong resident of Oak Lawn, she just recently moved to Lincoln Park .She grew up in St. Germaine Parish and attended St. Germaine Elementary School in Oak Lawn. She graduated from Mother McAuley High School in 2008.

She attended Illinois State University and the Mennonite College of Nursing. She worked at Advocate Christ Hospital for two and a half years as a certified nurse’s assistant and is now an RN. She cares for patients in the cardiac surgery unit who have just undergone open heart surgery, including heart transplants.

She said her own experience in the ER a decade ago enables her to encourage her patients.

“I know they are anxious to get well and go home and they get frustrated. I am able to tell them I know how they feel, but I also encourage them to try to maintain a positive attitude. I know it will help make them stronger.”