Graphic designer & caregiver on Dr. Phil

Posted by: Michele Cohen

In 2014, Graphic Design alumna Stephanie Paone received the Women’s Caucus for the Arts Award for her senior thesis on stroke awareness in honor of her father, a stroke survivor. This past May, her compelling story led to a featured segment about young caregivers on the Dr. Philshow. Dr. Phil McGraw, perhaps the most well-known mental health professional in the world, is the host of the nationally syndicated show.

Paone’s life as a caregiver began after she transferred to Moore from Delaware County Community College in 2011. Her father suffered a major stroke in 2012. The stroke followed a cardiac incident in November, 2011, when he had open heart surgery to fix a blown ventricle. In January, 2012, he began feeling the symptoms of a heart attack again.  During a visit to the doctor that February, a routine cardiac catheterization procedure caused the stroke.

“That was the only day I ever skipped school,” Paone said.

Paone’s father was flown to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital for emergency surgery. It was unsuccessful. “The doctor told us, ‘It’s bad news, he probably won’t make it’,” recalled Paone. Her father spent three weeks in the intensive care unit and part of his skull was removed due to the hemorrhaging.

The stroke left Paone’s father’s left side paralyzed, rendering him wheelchair-bound. Due to his condition, Paone’s father required 24-hour care, which is still the case today. “My mom and I do his physical care, like bathe him, move him, and cut his food. He can talk, read, and feed himself. He’s just physically disabled,” she said.

Paone’s family home is located in West Chester, PA, which allowed Paone to divide her time between her studies at Moore and taking care of her father. “My mom worked full time nights as a nurse, so she would watch him while I was in school,” Paone said. “I would leave class and take the subway to visit him on my lunch break.”

Despite her demanding care-giver role, Paone remained a full-time student and excelled at Moore. “I did well with my grades,” she beamed, “I didn’t fall below a ‘B.’”

The year of her father’s stroke, Paone received the Sophomore Graphic Design Faculty Award for Effort and Growth as acknowledgement for her hard work in class. She later received the Women’s Caucus for the Arts Award for her senior thesis work. The award recognizes the contributions made by women who have distinguished themselves by their activism and commitment to the women’s movement and the arts.

“The objective of my project was to bring awareness about strokes to the general public,” Paone said. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of adult disability.

“Everyone knows about heart disease and breast cancer, but you don’t hear as much about strokes. I was into how it happened and how his brain got altered. I originally went to school to be a biologist and I’m still into the science side of things.”

Paone received her degree from Moore in 2014, but her life as a caregiver remained the same.

One day, Paone’s sister shared a link to the Dr. Phil show that she found on Facebook. The show was seeking young caregivers between the ages of 18 and 25 to film a short segment on the challenges they face as part of Dr. Phil’s partnership with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. Paone submitted an application and was soon contacted by the show. Pfizer’s Chief Medical Officer, Freda Lewis-Hall, MD, flew out to Paone’s home to meet her and her father.

“Dr. Freda came out to witness what a day in our lives was like and film me taking care of my dad. Everyone was in my house, the producer, cameramen and a sound guy. They stayed all day,” Paone said. Her father can’t fly, so when it was time to film in the Dr. Phil studio, the show flew Paone and her boyfriend out to Los Angeles.

While Dr. Freda and Dr. Phil conversed about the statistics and trials of young caregivers, Dr. Phil asked Paone questions about her personal experience with her father. Paone was the only featured young caregiver on the show. The aired on May 26, 2015. “It was an awesome experience,” Paone said.

Today, Paone’s father is doing well. “He’s still a big responsibility in my life, but he is having minor improvements with physical therapy and he’s much more eager to try and improve his deficits,” she said. “His brain is good, his heart is stable and he’s as happy as a clown.”

Paone currently works two full-time jobs in addition to caregiving: as a graphic designer forDelaware Today magazine and as a patient access representative in the emergency room registrar’s office at Paoli Hospital. “I started working at a hospital in 2012 after my dad’s stroke. I love it there.”

Paone said her future career path may intersect with the medical field. “I’m considering going back to school for a Master’s degree in Art Therapy. I want to stay in the field of design but also help people.”

Watch the Dr. Phil segment featuring Stephanie