Monday, June 28, 2010

In memoriam: Polly Arango

Polly Arango, a nationally known advocate for children, died on Saturday, June 26. In total, I only spent a few minutes with Polly at last year's IHI Annual Forum (picture here), but she made an immediate and wonderful impression.

After the conference, I was curious. Who was this person? It was then that I learned of her extensive accomplishments and her fine reputation. These are summarized in this obituary in the Albuquerque Journal. Among other things, she founded Family Voices, which aims to achieve family-centered care for all children and youth with special health care needs and/or disabilities.

Learning of her untimely death in a freak one-car accident in Alamosa, Colorado, I felt a blow-to-the-midsection loss. Others shared that view.

One of these people is Dale Ann Micalizzi, whom I have come to know via social media and in person. Her blog, here, describes her work in memory of her son, Justin, to improve medical quality and safety. Dale and Polly also connected right away at the IHI Forum, and Dale gave Polly a small pin in commemoration of that friendship. With Dale's permission, here is the text of Polly's thank-you note and the final poignant words in her own writing:

Dear Dale,

Thank you for the beautiful pin. I love angels and hearts. My brother Nick who died of a brain tumor in 2001 once gave me a beautiful angel pin to honor my work with Family Voices, an organization he loved. And the Family Voices logo is a heart -- so your pin is perfect. Thank you!

I thank you also for inviting me into your world of tragedy and compassion. Your work in safety and transparency, built upon your loss of Justin, is just incredibly inspiring -- to me and the audiences you touch, as you did in Orlando at the IHI forum. You've said such presentations are still hard for you -- even more reason for me to respect and honor you.


Maureen Bisognano said...

Thanks Paul, for sharing your memories of Polly. She was one of the most special people in my life, and made a difference for so many patients and families. One of the most humble, funny and effective people I've ever had the pleasure to know. At IHI yesterday, we had a tribute to many ways that Polly had helped with our mission over the last 12 years, and we laughed with joy and cried over the loss, but Polly's voice will guide us forever.

Pat said...

It makes me cry to see all of these beautiful tributes. I think we can only aspire to that kind of footprint on the earth.....

Don Berwick said...

I, too, was deeply affected by getting to know Polly. She was courageous, clear, and gracious always as she explained to all of us what a truly person-centered and family-centered health care system would look like. She was visionary and relentless in the most wonderful way as an advocate for patients and communities, especially the most vulnerable among us, and she was always a trustworthy and warm advisor and friend. I will miss Polly immensely, even as my colleagues and I try to live up to her teaching and her legacy on behalf of patients and families.

Jim Conway said...

Paul thanks for your post. The loss of Polly is overwhelming. She was always there (for me it was for over 25 years) especially when we were lost in our jargon and high brow speaking. In the most "crisp" of ways she always brought us back to "true north" respecting the patient, the family, the community and the right, the privilege and the power of partnership. A few months of go she gave me a great gift, inviting me to her beautiful home and family compound to join her, John, and Nick in their own community of love, caring, joy, compassion and respect. And yes, I was invited to the picnic table in the garden by the kitchen to discuss current trends in public engagement and benefit from her ever present gems.

Yes, it is a horrible loss. Most importantly, it is a time to honor an exceptional legacy and example given to all of us. As scripture says "I have given you example, so also you may do."

Jim Conway

Kate said...

I spent Easter with Polly and we spoke at great length about the realities of our hospital system. She was the person I turned to with the joys and frustrations of my work as a new nurse. I can only hope to work with the care and compassion she showed every person she met.

My father, Nick, was one of Polly's eight siblings. After 5 years of various treatments he died of a brain tumor. Polly brought to us what family-centered care should look like and how my mom and my siblings could become 'teammates' with his health care providers.

I can hear her voice as I type this and I know I will miss her terribly. It is obvious she had a much bigger family out there.... of course, you all seem much less dysfunctional.

Kate Egan

Susan Epstein said...

Thanks Paul for honoring Polly's memory and inviting others to add their own words to yours. A truly remarkable presence and leader, Polly led by example with her honesty and gifts of clear communication and respect for others. I too had the pleasure of partnering with Polly in the work to build a family-centered health care system. I remember her early determination when I met her nearly 25 years ago, as well as the way she nurtured other family leaders and shared the accolades. I was reminded today of a powerful speech she gave at AMCHP a few years back where she changed the lexicon and turned a set of federal objectives for system improvement into "promises" to children and families. We have much work to do to make those promises come true. I will miss her energy and vision, but feel blessed to have known her extraordinary example.
Susan Epstein

Anonymous said...

Transferred from Facebook:

Marie: This moved me to tears. Thank you Dale and Paul for sharing these words.

Barbara said...

As a new member to the New Mexico healthcare community, Polly was a wonderful partner and welcoming spirit. Her loss is an enormous hole - her ability to capture the simple elements of what must be done in such a firm and engaing way is a huge part of her legacy. Keeping her legagcy alive is part of my promise to her memory. Thanks, Paul for the wonderful testimony to a life well lived.
Barbara Balik

Unknown said...

I want to express my deepest sympathy to Polly's family as well as all of her colleagues, who obviously respected and cherished her. I only recently got to know Polly over the planning of a conference she was generous enough to agree to keynote. Over the course of many phone calls and emails, I was struck at the enormity of vision, clarity and passion Polly had for family centerd care. I listened intently to each pearl of wisdom she shared with me. I am saddened that I won't be able to meet her next week, as was our plan. I am inspired by the love and compassion the healthcare community has expressed toward Polly. Quite a tribute to a lovely woman.