ISP Trooper on the Road to Recovery

With a combined 37 years of service in law enforcement, Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Tom Lillard and Sgt. Tracy Lillard know something about close-knit work environments, where colleagues feel more like family with each passing year.

When Tom Lillard required surgery to replace two valves in his heart, he was escorted to Memorial Medical Center in Springfield by a group of his fellow state troopers, who “made it a big to-do – they put on their lights on the overpasses, everything like that, to encourage my kids, who were nervous and scared for Tom,” said Tracy Lillard. The Lillards’ three daughters rode in a car behind the ambulance transporting Tom from Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana to MMC. Tom had presented in the Emergency Department at Carle after feeling progressively ill for several days.

So a family of colleagues delivered one of their own into the care of another. Before Tom went into what would be an 11-hour surgery at MMC, Tracy was allowed to see him. “The amount of care and compassion – everyone, from the security guard who escorted me, to the woman who checked my temperature on the way in – just amazed me,” she said.

“He was getting whisked away on the gurney down the hall, and [the care team members] were so polite, but still joking with my husband. They took the anxiety out of it,” said Tracy.

Following Tom’s long but successful surgery, Tracy was advised to return to the family’s home to shower and be with her children. Within a few hours, a nurse at MMC called Tracy to update her on Tom’s progress. “She told me he was doing fantastic,” said Tracy, “and she told me she knew it was hard, with the visitor restrictions because of COVID, and that I should call whenever I felt like it – day or night – to check on Tom. She was so accommodating and forthcoming and I felt comforted, knowing I would not have to pry out information about my husband.  I don’t know if it was a COVID thing or an all-the-time thing, but I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on.”

Soon Tom was able to use video chat to see and speak directly with his family. “I had no problem keeping in contact with my wife and kids,” he said. “I was able to keep them in the loop and, actually, [the visitor restrictions] allowed me to recover easier.”

Although recovery was “brutally boring – there’s only so much Food Network you can watch,” joked Tom, there were bright spots. Namely, Mitch Rogers, system administrator of cardiovascular services at MMC, who knew the Lillards through a mutual friend. “Mitch stopped in every day and talked to me,” said Tom. “That was above and beyond, in my opinion. I really appreciated that.”

“Just having someone who would visit with Tom and who had visited with me when Tom was in surgery for hours—just having that person checking on him because I wasn’t able to – that was very special,” Tracy said. After more than a week of postoperative care at MMC, Tom was recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital. Pulling into their driveway, the Lillards were greeted by about 10 of Tom’s ISP shift colleagues, all smiles and waving and flashing lights, welcoming the family home.

Sidebar:

Illinois State Police Master Sgt. Tom Lillard underwent an 11-hour double-valve replacement surgery in early April. During surgery, Tom experienced “clotting issues,” said Tracy Lillard, Tom’s wife and colleague at the ISP, where Tracy is a sergeant. Tom’s issues during surgery were resolved using blood product made available through blood and platelet donations collected during local blood drives.

“We donate blood to help others,” said Tracy, who, along with Tom, donated blood in January as part of a blood donation promotion among law enforcement. “We did that not knowing Tom would need blood from others.”

Blood and platelet donations “really do save lives,” said Tracy. “If Tom didn’t have that during his surgery, things would have been very different.”

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