Sean McKisic

Nov. 18, 2020

Dr. Sean McKisic, left, presents his patient, Lily Griesan, with a mock diploma as part of a impromptu graduation ceremony. Photo courtesy Jean Griesan.

Care team’s degree makes difference in teen’s life

All Lily Griesan wanted to do was to take part in her Coronado High School graduation ceremony.

For many young people, the rite of passage is taken for granted.  But not for Lily. Her graduation day was salvaged by a cast of caretakers at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central.

A traumatic brain injury left Lily with difficulty speaking, near constant pain and mobility challenges. She worked hard to pass classes and meet requirements at her west side Colorado Springs school. Then, there was the pandemic that cancelled in-person ceremonies and then moved them in to a football stadium with limited wheelchair access.

Finally, there was the infection that landed her at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, writhing in pain. It was the same hometown hospital where she’d spent weeks following a bicycle-car accident a dozen years earlier. Her parents, Tom and Jean Griesan, split shifts caring for Lily in the hospital and their four other daughters, including Lily’s fraternal twin, Valerie, at home.

As the rescheduled graduation day arrived, Lily got the news. She was too sick to leave the hospital.

“She was upset – really upset – about missing graduation,” said Jean Griesan, Lily’s mother. “I think any child would be unhappy but her brain injury amplifies things. As a parent, seeing your child hurting hurts you, too.”

Lily’s care team led by neurosurgeon Dr. Sean McKisic wrestled the infection, performing surgery and starting Lily on strong antibiotics. But they didn’t stop there.

Lily Griesan’s care team gathers to celebrate her accomplishment. Photo courtesy Jean Griesan.

Physician Assistant Madeline Lusk prepared a suitable-for-framing graduation certificate, complete with Lily’s name in script and an official looking seal. She also queued “Pomp and Circumstance” on her cell phone and gathered staff to celebrate Lily’s accomplishment. As McKisic conferred the mock degree, Lily was showered with claps and kudos.

“It was an amazing act of kindness,” Jean Griesan said. “Dr. McKisic gave a wonderful speech that was genuine and heartfelt.”

For McKisic, celebrating Lily was an easy decision.

“It was very important to me to make sure her graduation was as special as it could be given the situation,” McKisic said.

Just as they have for so many years, Jean and Tom Griesan divided duties graduation day. Because of COVID-19, only one visitor is allowed to be with a patient per day. Jean attended Valerie’s graduation while Tom stayed at Lily’s side at Memorial.  Later, when Tom had gone home to sleep, Jean got to attend Lily’s ceremony. As McKisic completed his rounds, he presented Lily her degree after checking her wound site and medical condition. The following day, he stopped in just to say hello.

“Dr. McKisic showed up just to check on Lily. He’s a good guy and a caring physician. That he made time, and that the nurses came together to celebrate my daughter, means everything to me.”


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About the author

Tom Hutton is a veteran communications professional who enjoys making complex subjects relatable to people from all walks of life. Prior to joining UCHealth in 2019, he taught and led public communications at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Previously, he led communications at the University of Kansas and was a reporter and manager for newspapers in Kansas, Iowa and California. In these roles, he earned recognition from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the University of Colorado and various press associations.

Tom earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from KU and a master’s degree in public administration from CU. He enjoys college sports, vintage cars, cooking Kansas City-style barbeques, skiing and hiking.

He and his wife Julie have two daughters and a son.