​Transplant coordinator inspired by personal tragedy

UChicago Medicine transplant nurses

UChicago Medicine transplant nurses (L to R): Pamela Boone, pediatric liver and kidney transplant nurse coordinator; Patrice Pfeiffenberger, clinical director of the Transplantation Institute; Roseann Sweda, post-kidney transplant nurse coordinator; Mary Beth McNamara, post- kidney transplant nurse coordinator; Kathy Davis, living kidney donor nurse coordinator; Jozefa Sutor, post- kidney transplant nurse coordinator; Oluwatitofunmi Apatira, pre- kidney transplant nurse coordinator; and Melissa Sullivan, pre-kidney transplant nurse coordinator.

When pre-kidney transplant coordinator Patrycja Ulijaszyk, BSN, RN, lost her beloved boyfriend to a fatal motorcycle accident in 2008, she had no idea that his death would later become the inspiration for her burgeoning career.

When he was pronounced brain dead, a nurse with Gift of Hope asked Ulijaszyk if he would have wanted his organs to be donated.

Ulijaszyk called his mother in Poland, and they both agreed, “Yes.”

“He was an amazing person,” Ulijaszyk said. “He was a very loving and hard working person, full of life, always wanting to help everyone. I didn’t have any doubt — I knew he would have wanted to save some lives.”

Patrycja Ulijaszyk, BSN, RN, is a kidney transplant coordinator

Both Ulijaszyk and her boyfriend had come to the United States from Krakow, Poland, several years prior to the accident. They lived with her aunt and uncle, and they had kept their lives small.

“We just had each other,” she said. “He was my one and only.”

While mourning his death, Ulijaszyk stayed strong and finished nursing school.

She worked as a bedside nurse for a few years. In 2014, a physician friend told her the University of Chicago Medicine was looking for a Polish-speaking transplant coordinator.

She interviewed, and was hired almost immediately.

“I was so surprised by how life goes,” she said.

Following specialized training, Ulijaszyk began taking care of patients who needed kidney and pancreas transplants.

“You help them get on the waiting list, and you develop a relationship with them for up to eight years because they are waiting for so long," she said. "At first, I was working with new patients, and now, because I have more experience, I am working with wait-listed patients who are complex patients because their needs increase over time while waiting for a transplant.”

You develop a relationship with [patients] for up to eight years because they are waiting for so long.

Sara Ham, business administrator for UChicago Medicine's Transplantion Institute, says Ulijaszyk has made quick and significant progress expanding her role, making a difference at the hospital — and most importantly, for patients. Ulijaszyk has worked with Piotr Witkowski, MD, PhD, and Jozefa Sutor, RN, to build the UChicago Medicine Polish-American Transplant Center by coordinating events and participating in outreach to help expand UChicago Medicine’s Polish referral base.

On campus, Ulijaszyk makes strides in raising quality standards. She created and is co-chair of the Transplantion Institute’s unit-based council, and she works with colleagues to create and revise protocols that positively impact our patient population.

While Ulijaszyk’s role continues to grow, she maintains her focus on her patients.

“I proudly serve the Polish community in Chicago,” Ulijaszyk said. “If someone is asking me what I do, I always tell them I am making a difference every day because we are giving patients the gift of life
and a second chance in life. One of my transplanted patients, who called me on Easter, has asked me to call her ‘Grandma’ and asked me to come have pierogies with her. She is still recovering, and says she is becoming stronger. That is the best part of my job.”

Polish-American Transplant Center

The University of Chicago Medicine Polish-American Transplant Center serves Polish-speaking patients and their families who seek the highest quality transplant care. The center is run by a Polish-speaking team of experts who coordinate all aspects of care for patients before, during and after transplant.

Learn more about the Polish American Transplant Center
Amy Alderman
Amy Alderman

Amy Alderman is a senior communications specialist at UChicago Medicine.