January 19th, 2017
Five weeks before she was born, Marissa B. had a stroke in utero. When her mother went into labor, Marissa had another stroke. Diagnosed with epilepsy at birth, Marissa spent her first month of life in the neonatal intensive care unit.
“When she was six months old, they did a brain MRI,” Marissa’s mom, Lisa, says. “They said she would never walk or go to a regular school.”
The strokes took a significant toll on the left side of Marissa’s body. She doesn’t have fine motor skills in her left hand. She has a blind spot in her lower left eye and hearing loss in her left ear. Sensation on her entire left side was also affected.
“I’ve been on seizure meds since birth,” says Marissa, who is now 24 years old.
“The strokes affected a part of my brain, and every time brain waves traveled across that part of the brain, I would have a seizure,”
Due to Marissa's frequent seizures, her mom decided to homeschool Marissa from third through eighth grade. She was able to be involved in a wide variety of extra-curricular activities, including drama, soccer, softball and Tae Kwon Do.
“We did everything we could think of to help her have as normal a life as possible,” Lisa says. That became harder, however, as grew and the seizures increased.
When Marissa entered high school, her seizures became more frequent. She had several each day, and she experienced frequent episodes of memory loss.
“Sometimes I would call my mom from school and tell her ‘I see lockers but don’t know where I am,’” Marissa says.
One aspect of the seizures that bothered Marissa most was frequent shaking of her left hand.
“When I was a sophomore in high school, my left hand would shake nonstop, to the point that my arm muscles would hurt constantly,” Marissa says. “Sometimes I couldn’t sleep because the shaking would wake me up.”
Looking for a remedy, Marissa saw more than a dozen neurologists in Illinois, where she lives. Some told her and her mom that the shaking in Marissa’s hand was a tremor and not the result of seizures. They said there was nothing more anyone could do.
“We were staying at a hotel and in the middle of the night, Marissa had a long-lasting seizure of her entire left side of her body,” Lisa says. “Then 40 minutes later, she had even a bigger seizure that went on for more than 10 minutes. We ran across the street to Saint Marys Hospital.”
The care team at the hospital connected Lisa and Marissa with Elaine Wirrell, M.D., a Mayo Clinic pediatric and adolescent neurologist.
Dr. Wirrell evaluated Marissa and determined her hand tremors were actually seizures. And she diagnosed Marissa with a rare form of epilepsy, in which seizures occur all the time, called epilepsia parcialis continua. With this diagnosis, Dr. Wirrell recommended two different medications. But over the course of several months, neither curbed Marissa’s seizures.
At that point, Lisa and Marissa began exploring other alternatives. They met with Kendall Lee, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon and director of Mayo Clinic’s Neural Engineering Lab, and Matt Stead, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist
They learned more about the potential for resection surgery. During this surgery, the part of Marissa’s brain causing the seizures would be removed. But because that surgery would leave Marissa paralyzed on her left side, Dr. Lee suggested trying another option, cortical stimulation, instead.
“Because seizures are oscillations — things that repeat, like the heartbeat — I thought the electrical stimulation could block the seizures,” Dr. Lee says. “We didn’t know if it would work because it had never been done.”
“We were concerned about the cortical stimulation. But what did we have to lose?” Lisa says. “The worst case would be that it wouldn’t work.”
On Oct. 9, 2009, Marissa went into surgery. Dr. Lee put in temporary electrodes to find the exact location in the brain that was causing her seizures. When he found it, he laid 16 flat electrodes on top of Marissa’s brain to send electrical impulses to it 24 hours a day. A wire was then placed under the skin to her chest where a battery was implanted.
The surgery was a success. Dr. Lee remembers how ecstatic the family and his team were. And that success would lead to others.
“We are now doing more cortical implants because of the success we had with Marissa,” he says.
Today Marissa is virtually seizure-free, and her quality of life has improved exponentially.
“I am able enjoy life more,” Marissa says. “When we go out to parties and outings, I am able to remember those times and not worry about having a seizure.”
Without seizures, Marissa is able to drive, which gives her much more freedom. In addition, she got a service dog to help her navigate daily activities. The dog was instrumental in enabling Marissa to attend college and complete her degree with an impressive 3.9 GPA.
“When I think of Mayo, I think of all the wonderful and understanding people who were able to help me and my family get through that difficult time,” Marissa says. “Mayo gave me my life back. The surgery was life-changing.”
“It makes my day to hear that,” Dr. Lee says. “When I have tough days, I remember patients like Marissa. We didn’t know if we could do it, but it’s obvious we had a tremendous impact on Marissa’s life.”
January 17th, 2017
Courage. Optimism. Acceptance. Those are just a few of the attributes that define the determination of Karen Ramsey, whose rare medical condition makes her a member of an exclusive club. One to which she would much prefer not to belong. Karen has Von Hippel-Lindau syndrome, or VHL, in which a gene mutation causes her body to be unable to suppress the growth of tumors.
Not one to sink into the comfort of denial, after her diagnosis Karen, now 56, dug in and did her homework. She learned that at least eight areas of her body could potentially succumb to tumors. She understood her future may forever be altered. In spite of the difficult diagnosis, with the support of her care team at Mayo Clinic, Karen found a way to move forward in a positive way. [...]
January 13th, 2017
After a 37-year career at a petroleum company, Dan Hofferber was looking forward to retirement. But in 2014, Dan started having trouble with one of his legs. The muscle in his left thigh would tighten up, causing unbearable pain that made it hard to walk.
“I was used to walking a mile or two, and I couldn’t do that anymore,” says Dan, who travels to Florida for spring training every year with his wife, Carol.” I couldn’t even walk from the parking lot to the baseball stadium.”
The pain prompted Dan to seek care in his hometown of Billings, Montana. After several months without relief, a family member urged him to go to Mayo Clinic. Dan took that advice, traveling to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. There, he met neurologic surgeon Mohamad Bydon, M.D. Dan was immediately impressed.
January 12th, 2017
Dennis Brennan met Albert Hakaim, M.D., a vascular surgeon at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, in January 2008. Then 73 years old and living in Ft. Meyers, Florida, Dennis had just learned that he had an abdominal aortic aneurysm — a weakened and enlarged area in the lower part of the aorta, the main artery that supplies blood to the body.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms affect only about 8 percent of the population. But they are serious. If it ruptures, an abdominal aortic aneurysm can be life-threatening.
After learning his diagnosis, Dennis knew he wanted a second opinion, especially because he had a family history of abdominal aortic aneurysms. Dennis immediately thought of Mayo Clinic. He and his wife Anna had been to Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, many times, where Dennis had his annual physicals for nearly three decades.
January 9th, 2017
For years, Kallie Howerton and Kate Hudson had been listening to Kate Welp talk about the mission trips to Ecuador she organizes every year. The nurses work together on the Cardiovascular Surgery Progressive Care unit at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus.
“My preceptor planted the seed,” says Howerton, who has worked at Mayo Clinic for three years. “She raved about the awesome trip experience she had with Kate [Welp], and, working with Kate, I realized that she’s awesome. I can learn from her.” [...]
January 5th, 2017
By Linda Binner
From the time he was 13 years old, Jairus “Matt” Pierce, battled kidney disease. By 2016, when he was 44, the disease had become debilitating. A shift commander for a fire department, Matt had been forced to take a light-duty assignment because of his medical condition. He required daily dialysis, and the only long-term solution was a life-saving kidney transplant.
Simply put, Matt needed a hero.
January 3rd, 2017
In spring 2016, Trish Byrd went deaf. And no one knew why. With constant ear pain and unable to hear, Trish saw seven different doctors in her home state of New Mexico. After months of treatment, there was no improvement in her symptoms.
“I kept asking, ‘What’s wrong with me?’” Trish says. “None of my doctors could give me an answer. That’s when my husband and I decided it was time to go to Mayo Clinic.”
At Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus, Trish met ear, nose and throat specialist Peter Weisskopf, M.D. He carefully reviewed her records, talked with her about her health history, and did a physical exam. By the end of their first meeting, Dr. Weisskopf believed he knew what was causing Trish’s symptoms.
December 30th, 2016
The day before Norma “Kay” Orr was scheduled for a living donor kidney transplant at Mayo Clinic, she needed one more blood test. The Palm Coast, Florida, resident was in line to receive a kidney from her niece, Jamie.
Jamie Rogers had volunteered to be a living donor when she found out in early 2016 that her aunt would need a transplant. Kay’s kidneys had scarred due to glomerulosclerosis and interstitial fibrosis.
“I have been through some tough times in my life, and Kay and her husband were always there for me. I never gave it a second thought,” says Jamie, who drove from Robbinsville, North Carolina, for the procedure, which was scheduled for July 26, 2016, at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus.
“Jamie and I have always been very close,” says Kay. “As soon as she heard I needed a transplant, she said ‘I want to be the one.’ And that was great, since none of my four children could be the donor.”
December 23rd, 2016
In August 2014, Richard Carvajal, then 43, was in the best shape of his life. He was excited as he left his home in Bainbridge, Georgia, to compete in his first Olympic-distance triathlon. But as he drove across Alabama on his way to the race site, he started feeling sharp abdominal pain.
“It kept getting worse and worse, and I literally crawled into a Birmingham emergency room,” Richard says.
Although doctors initially thought Richard’s pain was caused by kidney stones, it turned out to be a symptom of a much more difficult problem. Testing eventually revealed Richard had pancreatic cancer.
December 22nd, 2016
For much of her adolescent and adult life, Erica Laney, 31, had frequent petit mal seizures. Less often, she had grand mal seizures that led to loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. The cause of the seizures was abnormal electrical activity throughout her brain.
“The seizures started when I was 11 years old. I would experience three to four a month,” Erica says. “I was unable to talk during these auras and couldn’t remember anything afterwards. I felt like I was on a rollercoaster, and I was heading for the big drop. Then darkness came from behind me, enveloping me in a haze that would lead to a seizure.”
The Mims, Florida, native was diagnosed with seizure disorder and had a series of tests, including MRIs, CT scans, and electroencephalograms, or EEGs. Erica also went through intracarotid sodium amobarbital, or Wada, testing, which looks at language and memory on one side of the brain at a time. While under the care of an Orlando neurologist, Erica took several medications to control her seizures. But she was never fully seizure-free.
December 19th, 2016
“Mom, I’m going out!” Today this phrase rings through the Gramm home on a regular basis as 16-year-old Josie Gramm heads outside to work with horses at the family’s ranch near Glendive, Montana. An enthusiastic ranch hand who loves being with animals, Josie spends as much time as she can outdoors.
For almost a year, though, Josie wasn’t able to tend to her beloved horses or do any of the outside activities she so enjoys around the ranch. Most days she spent sitting in the house, overcome with pain that wouldn’t go away and unable to walk.
“At that point, I would have given anything to have her say “Bye, Mom!” and head out the door,” says Jessica Gramm, Josie’s mother. “She wasn’t able to do anything she wanted to do. It was bad.”
December 16th, 2016
As a father of three and the district manager for 11 large retail stores in Houston, Chad Fogle was used to being tired. But in the spring of 2015, he began experiencing exhaustion far beyond what was typical.
“Two hours of being out doing something would exhaust me as much as working 12 hours,” Chad says.
He also began having memory loss. Sometimes he would drive to one of his stores and not remember how he got there. Some days he’d have to go back to his car four or five times because he kept forgetting things.
“I was living in a constant fog,” he says.
December 15th, 2016
During the summer of 2016, for the first time in years, Jack Rhodes did something he doubted he’d ever do again. The 68-year-old retired rancher from central Alabama saddled up a two-year old stallion to train, exercise and ride.
Four years ago, Jack had gained 40 pounds due to fluid retention that resulted in swelling throughout his body. He suffered severe shortness of breath and was unable to walk, much less get on a horse. But thanks to an accurate diagnosis of his condition and successful treatment at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus under the care of nephrologist Nabeel Aslam, M.D., Jack’s condition has improved dramatically.
December 15th, 2016
It’s a condition with no outward symptoms. But for the hundreds of thousands of teens and adults in the U.S. living with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, the medical disorder has a significant impact on their lives. Christine Esposito is one of those people.
POTS is a disorder that affects a person’s autonomic nerves — the nerves that control involuntary body functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, perspiration, and bowel and bladder functions. Not everyone has the same symptoms, but the condition universally causes rapid heart rates and dizziness when moving from a resting to standing position.
December 10th, 2016
When Tyson Cluever, a 32-year-old mother of two from Benson, Minnesota, learned that she had an aggressive brain cancer, her first thought was of her children. At just nine months and five years old, her sons stood to lose one of the most important people in their lives if she were to share the fate of many individuals diagnosed with grade IV glioblastomas.
“It’s brain cancer, and you have between 12 and 18 months to live,” says Tyson’s husband, Jon. “It just totally messes you up inside when something like this happens.”
The couple’s next thought was to fight the cancer with everything they had. [...]
December 8th, 2016
When most people think of their happy place, they envision something like a warm, sunny beach or a cozy mountain cabin. But when Lisa Fairbairn thinks about a place that gives her comfort, Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus comes to mind.
She’s happiest there because it’s where her son Chase was given a second chance. Not only did he receive a new heart at Mayo Clinic to replace one that was failing, but the family can now rely on ongoing care from Mayo Clinic physicians who understand Chase’s medical concerns and have pledged to do their best to keep him healthy well into the future.
Lisa’s sense of comfort didn't come easy, however. [...]
November 23rd, 2016
Six years ago, Robert Clark thought he was having a stroke. His left eye drooped shut, and he began to have difficulty swallowing. A competitive body builder used to working out six times a week, Robert rarely got sick. So when a local physician dismissed his symptoms, he sought out a friend who worked at Mayo Clinic.
His friend recommended he see Paul Brazis, M.D., a physician who specializes in neuro-ophthalmology. After examining Robert, Dr. Brazis suspected myasthenia gravis, a rare autoimmune disorder characterized by weakness and fatigue of the skeletal muscles as a result of an enlarged thymus. The thymus, an H-shaped gland situated in the upper chest that produces T-cells to fight disease, is supposed to shrink after birth, when bone marrow takes over this function.
Following a series of tests, the diagnosis of myasthenia gravis was confirmed. Robert then faced difficult decisions about managing his disease while living life as he wanted. [...]
November 22nd, 2016
In January, Isaac began feeling sick whenever he ate. A visit to his primary care doctor in his hometown of Eugene, Oregon, led to an initial diagnosis of gallstones. But when an MRI of Isaac’s abdomen showed that the entire right side of his liver was no longer working and his bile ducts were almost completely blocked, his physician promptly connected him with specialists in Seattle.
“We were scared but thought that I was suffering from some sort of bile duct disease. We were hopeful,” Isaac recalls. “Unfortunately, our worst fears came true, and it put our family to the test. How would we respond? Would we stay hopeful? Would we be grateful for what we had?” [...]
November 21st, 2016
When Reilly Steidle came to Mayo Clinic in the summer of 2013 at the age of 20, she brought with her two rolling suitcases full of medical paperwork and a hope that the physicians could make sense of the recurring headaches, chronic fatigue and widespread pain she’d been dealing with for two years.
Reilly had been a healthy college student majoring in business at Northern Illinois University in the fall of 2011. But by the end of the school year, the Plainfield, Illinois, resident had dropped out, debilitated by her mysterious symptoms. Reilly spent the summer of 2012 visiting doctors.
When no one could decipher her symptoms, she decided to try another approach. Reilly went to a chiropractor, who asked to see her MRI images. After looking at them, the chiropractor urged Reilly to get an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test, confirmed by a Western blot test, to check for Lyme disease. Reilly did so, and on her 19th birthday, she received the news that the test results were positive.
November 18th, 2016
In May 2013, at age 47, Angenette Monroe was diagnosed with invasive cancer in her left breast. After six months of chemotherapy, she had a mastectomy as part of her treatment plan.
The former gastroenterology technologist had participated in many medical procedures and was well aware of the challenges people can face after surgery. But as an active woman who exercised and was always on the go, Angenette never expected her treatment would prevent her from enjoying life.
But it did. Side effects after surgery kept Angenette from activities with her husband, including running and traveling, as well as visits with her three children and her grandchild.
She also dealt with lymphedema for more than a year. Then Angenette turned to physicians at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus for help. They were able to offer her a unique surgical approach, called lymphovenous bypass, that eased her symptoms.
She had picked the right place to seek help. [...]