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Nov 20
Casey Stephan, U.S. Communications
Even with Tragedy, There is Hope: The Powerful Love of a Caregiver

This National Family Caregivers Month, we honor and thank the many caregivers that selflessly care for their loved ones each day. Patients are at the heart of everything we do, and many of our employees have experienced being a patient or caregiver themselves. This perspective drives us as innovators and inspires us to continue our mission to create value for people like ourselves or a loved one living with a severe disease. 

Kristi Lengyel, UCB’s Head of Healthcare System Strategy, knows firsthand the burden many caregivers feel when a loved one experiences a life or death situation. In 2015, her cousin’s wife, Melissa, was hospitalized after experiencing two arterial breaks in the cerebral portion of her brain. Melissa underwent extensive surgeries, testing, and treatment at multiple centers across the country, including at Walter Reed Hospital. Her husband, Colonel Louis Zeisman, an infantry officer, did his best to ensure his wife had the health care she needed, while caring for their sons at home and his soldiers in the Pacific. With this, caregiving for Melissa quickly expanded beyond Louis – it became the job of her whole family, including Kristi. Caregiving meant cooking meals for the family, arranging medical appointments, driving kids to sports practice, sending cards to Melissa and her medical team, and encouraging Melissa that she was getting better and stronger.

For Melissa, her motto became: “Progress not perfection.” And after 18 months of in-patient rehab, where she endured and embraced hours of physical, occupational, and speech therapy, Melissa was reunited with her family and her military family. Five year later, Louis and Melissa are retired and enjoying their life in North Carolina. Kristi shares that Louis, the five-combat tour decorated soldier, learned to apply eyeshadow, blow dry hair, and put together outfits to attempt to create normalcy for his wife while she was healing. Because of the great care Melissa received, she can now put on her own makeup and do her own hair again.  

Even today, the memory of panic and hopelessness is present for Kristi. But Kristi has found that even with tragedy, there is always hope. It has given her the opportunity to not only advocate for patients living with disabilities, but also to drive her work at UCB. Because she knows how often caregivers can mentally – and physically - feel the burden of caring for a family member, she has found an important part of her role both at UCB and in her own life is to remind caregivers how important it is for them to take care of themselves - in addition to their loved one. 
“My experience has made my job mean a lot more. Value is based on making the lives of both patients and their caregivers easier - we are a part of the solution,” Kristi said. “I live UCB’s Patient Value Strategy at work and at home because being a caregiver to Melissa allows my cousin the time to recharge.”     

At UCB, Kristi is a proponent of patient advocacy, and UCB’s involvement with organizations, such as the National Alliance for Caregiving, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and the American Disabilities Association. Kristi shares that these organizations are important to advocacy, ensuring caregivers have the support they need, and teaching caregivers to ask questions so they can better take care of their loved one. 
 

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