Sharing Mayo Clinic

Stories from patients, family, friends and Mayo Clinic staff


January 17th, 2014

Dr. David Fleischer: Treating Esophageal Cancer in Kenya

By SMHNadmin mayoclinic

Dr. Fleischer at Tenwek HospitalEsophageal cancer is a challenging enough condition to treat at the best medical centers in the U.S. When the condition affects scores of people in a developing country in eastern Africa, the challenge is all the more demanding.

David Fleischer, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, and his colleagues, working in collaboration with Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya, were focused on a noble charge: to work with physicians and staff at Tenwek to intervene early when patients exhibit symptoms that could lead to esophageal cancer.

Dr. Fleischer notes that in many patients with esophageal cancer, the disease is so advanced by the time they present to a physician that only palliative care is possible. In many medical centers such as Tenwek, where several new cases of esophageal cancer are seen each week, the standard of care has been to outfit patients with a tube (stent) in the throat to assist with their swallowing. However, “swallowing a tube is not a cure,” he affirms. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Africa, Arizona, Cancer, David Fleischer, David Fleischer MD, Dr Fleischer, Esophageal cancer, esophagus, Kenya, radio frequency ablation, RFA, Tenwek Hospital

July 3rd, 2013

Make Good Things Come From Bad

By SMHNadmin mayoclinic

During a hospitalization for pneumonia more than 20 years ago in her hometown of Barrington, IL, Ilse Hein received very frightening news: she had multiple myeloma. Initially she understood that she had a skin cancer (a melanoma), though she soon learned that multiple myeloma was actually very different: a complex cancer of the bone marrow.

Ilse & Dr. Greipp

Soon thereafter, encouraged by her local physician, Ms. Hein traveled the 5+ hours (drive time) to Rochester and spent a week at Mayo Clinic. There her diagnosis was confirmed and compounded by more bad news: the care team discovered that she also had an incurable non-alcoholic liver disease. One week later she underwent major surgery.

Subsequently Ms. Hein was assigned to Dr. Philip Greipp (hematologist) and Dr. Patrick Kamath (hepatologist). They became her guides during her cancer journey. Ms. Hein stated: “Both doctors explained the diseases in detail without instilling panic. They helped to ease my fear with their knowledge, empathy, kindness and concern, and openness. They worked together as a team, and that instills further trust and confidence. Receiving such excellent, custom tailored care and attention always makes me feel like I won the lottery.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Breast Cancer, Cancer, Dr. Patrick Kamath, Dr. Philip Greipp, Hematology, Hepatology, Ilse Hein, Matthew Clark PhD, multiple myeloma, non-alcoholic liver disease, oncology

January 17th, 2013

Thoroughness is credited by Canadian for early Prostate Cancer Diagnosis

By Makala Arce MakalaJohnson

John HendersonJohn Henderson of British Columbia is a details man: a Chartered Accountant for whom accuracy and thoroughness are paramount. So while health care is excellent in Canada, about 15 years ago Mr. Henderson, now 62, decided his routine check-ups were not as thorough as they should be for a man approaching 50.

"Every time I thought about where I could go to get a really excellent and detailed complete physical, the name 'Mayo Clinic' kept coming to mind," Mr. Henderson recalls. "I don't know why... I'd never met anyone who went there. I must have read about it as a top institution in the U.S." Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: canada, early diagnosis, Executive Health Program, John Henderson, Matthew Clark PhD, Prostate Cancer

December 22nd, 2011

Mayo Graduate Student – Trip to Ecuador

By Makala Arce MakalaJohnson

Amy Saleh, M.D. went to Ecuador as part of the Mayo International Heath Program within the Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education. She recounts this surgical trip experience, where they focused on children with cleft lip and cleft palate.

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Tags: Amy Saleh, cleft lip, cleft palate, Ecuador, education, Graduate, health program, international, mayo, student, surgery

December 19th, 2011

Mayo International Health Program Testimony – Experience in Kenya

By Makala Arce MakalaJohnson

Mira Keddis, M.D. was originally from Egypt, went to Texas for her medical school training, and came to Mayo Clinic for her residency training. Then, the Mayo International Health Program (MIHP) offered her the opportunity to travel abroad as part of her education. In the below video, she relays lessons learned from her trip to Kenya.


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Tags: Africa, education, fellowship, Graduate, health program, international, Kenya, Matthew Clark PhD, medical, MIHP, Mira Keddis, residency, school, student

December 13th, 2011

Mayo Graduate Student – Trip to West Africa

By Makala Arce MakalaJohnson

Jason O'Grady, M.D. went to West Africa as part of the Mayo International Heath Program within the Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education. He recounts his experience in this video.


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Tags: education, fellowship, graduate school, health program, international, Jason O'Grady, Matthew Clark PhD, MIHP, residency, student, Togo, West Africa

November 14th, 2011

International Praise for Mayo Clinic’s Nicotine Dependence Center

By Makala Arce MakalaJohnson

Meet Mr. Hussein Hatata, lung cancer survivor, who praises the Mayo Clinic Nicotine Dependency Center for helping him to quit smoking.

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Tags: Hussein Hatata, international, Lung Cancer, Nicotine Dependence Center, quit, smoking

June 7th, 2011

Early Detection Key for Treatment of Barrett’s Esophagus

By Susana Shephard susanashephard

Benny Andújar has traveled a long way from his native Utuado, Puerto Rico, to tell an important story.

“Cancer doesn’t always send a warning,” Andújar says about his experience with a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus.  A routine endoscopy gave him the information he needed to unmask esophageal cancer before it developed.  “When they did the endoscopy they discovered I had Barrett’s esophagus,” recalls Andújar.  His doctor referred him to gastroenterologists at Mayo Clinic.

Andújar, who retired from detective work with a New York police department and now lives in Orange Park, Florida, visited Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, for state-of-the art treatment to correct the lining of his esophagus before cancer cells began to propagate.

Barrett’s esophagus is a precancerous condition that affects the lining of the esophagus. Long-term exposure to stomach acid can change the color and composition of the walls of the esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus is often diagnosed in people who have chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), although only a small percentage of people with GERD will develop Barrett’s esophagus.

Andujar and his doctors chose treatment with radiofrequency ablation. In this minimally-invasive procedure, doctors use an endoscopic tool through the mouth and lower it into the esophagus to deliver radiofrequency energy to the affected area. The outpatient procedure takes about an hour and the patient can return home the same day.

“I consider the procedure to be comfortable for the patient,” Andujar says. “I never had any complications from it.” Now, every six months, Andujar comes back to Mayo Clinic to monitor his esophagus through an endoscopic biopsy. “The last three have been negative, which indicates my esophagus was restored to its original condition before I had a problem.”

“My impression is that I had the best of luck to become a patient at Mayo Clinic,” Andujar concludes. “If we wait to have symptoms, it’s already too late. The consequences are much worse than if you find out the problem on time, as I had the opportunity.”

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Tags: Barrett's esophagus, Radiofrequency Ablation

February 24th, 2011

A first of its kind surgery

By Makala Arce MakalaJohnson

Janis Ollson and her family.

Three years ago, when Janis Ollson, now 32, was pregnant with her second child, she experienced agonizing back pain. But, unlike the back pain she had during her first pregnancy with daughter Braxtyn, this time the pain would not subside.

“I was desperate for relief,” says Ollson. Five months into the pregnancy she could no longer work at her office job. At seven months, she could no longer drive.

Ollson, who lives in Balmoral, Manitoba, Canada, eventually went to the hospital and refused to leave until she was admitted. “I knew something was wrong,” she says. “That degree of pain could not possibly be normal, even during pregnancy.”

Listening to her instincts and refusing to take no for an answer helped save Ollson’s life — along with a groundbreaking surgery at Mayo Clinic.

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Tags: Bone Cancer, canada, Cancer, Janis Ollson, Matthew Clark PhD, Michael Yaszemski, surgery

February 18th, 2011

A Miracle for Daniela

By Makala Arce MakalaJohnson

Daniela with her brothers and sister.

Photo: Daniela, pictured top left, enjoys time with her brothers and sister at our home in Ecuador after her procedure at Mayo Clinic.

Written by her parents, Juan and Victoria (Ecuador):

My wife Victoria has always believed in miracles. I also believe in miracles, but I thought they only happened to somebody else, not us.  After all the events that led to our daughter’s successful heart operation at Mayo Clinic, I am convinced that miracles do happen to ordinary people like us.

Our daughter Daniela, 12-years old, was born in Ecuador with pectus excavatum, a type of chest wall deformity that causes her chest to appear sunken. Severe cases can impair heart and lung function, but in Daniela’s case, the deformity was considered only cosmetic. That changed in 2009, when doctors encouraged us to have Daniela checked for Marfan syndrome, an inherited disorder that affects the connective tissue that anchors organs and other structures in the body.

We decided to try to take her to a U.S. medical center for evaluation. While researching medical centers, my wife Victoria got an e-mail from the National Marfan Foundation with information about an upcoming Marfan Conference at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  She told me that she had a hunch that we should go to the Conference at Mayo Clinic, so we registered for the Conference.

Searching for Answers at Mayo Clinic

When we arrived at Mayo Clinic, nothing could have prepared us for the feelings of peacefulness that filled our hearts as we entered the beautiful Gonda Building. We could hear a piano and a chorus, and we could not believe we were at a clinic. We just felt that God had led us to the best place in the world to care for our daughter.

Daniela underwent several tests during the week of the Marfan Conference, including an echocardiogram that showed an enlargement of her aortic root. The aortic root is the segment of the aorta and its valve that emerge from the left ventricle in Daniela’s heart.

Daniela’s enlargement was just borderline for surgery in a typical Marfan syndrome patient, so we met with Dr. Joseph Dearani, a pediatric cardiac surgeon at Mayo Clinic, who explained the surgical procedure that Daniela might need in the future should the enlargement worsen.

After going to several informational sessions as part of the Marfan Conference, we began to wonder if Daniela was suffering from Marfan syndrome or the rarer Loeys-Dietz syndrome.  Loeys-Dietz syndrome is a genetic condition similar to Marfan Sydnrome, but we learned that it carries a higher risk of aortic aneurysm and aortic dissection. To confirm which syndrome Daniela was facing, samples of her blood were sent for genetic testing.

Four months after we returned from Mayo Clinic, we found out that we were expecting a baby.  And one month later, we got the results from Daniela’s genetic test – and our world collapsed.  The test confirmed that Daniela had the less common Loeys-Dietz syndrome.

Since aortic dilatation in Loeys-Dietz syndrome is more prone to rupture and dissection than in Marfan patients, Daniela needed more immediate heart surgery. She needed a valve sparring aortic root replacement, which is a delicate open heart surgery successfully performed in only a handful of medical centers in the world, requiring very skilled heart surgeons.

We wrote to all the hospitals that performed the procedure, asking for estimates and financial assistance, including Mayo Clinic as our number one choice. Kate Welp, a nurse from Mayo Clinic who had given us her e-mail address after the Marfan Conference, helped us refer Daniela’s case to Dr. Allison Cabalka, our wonderful pediatric cardiologist at Mayo Clinic, and Dr. Cabalka applied for a charity waiver for our case.

Meanwhile, we visited every charitable organization in Ecuador, as well as all the public medical institutions in Ecuador asking for their help.  We were hopeful that our government assistance program for catastrophic diseases would be able to help us fund our daughter’s surgery, but after weeks of paperwork, they finally told us that they do not have the funds to help us.

We were devastated, but the very next day we got a call from Mayo Clinic telling us that Daniela could have the surgery at Mayo!  My wife Victoria and I will never forget the moment we found out Daniela was having surgery at Mayo.  We could not stop our tears of joy as we knew in our hearts that everything was going to be fine, that our daughter will have her life saving surgery at the best place in the world.

We then received by mail excellent information about Rochester, Mayo Clinic, and heart surgery.  We even got a DVD in Spanish telling children what to expect for their surgery, for Daniela to watch, as well as coloring and activity books to help prepare her for surgery.

Returning to Mayo Clinic for Surgery

We arrived in Rochester on Mother’s Day of 2010 with Victoria, six months pregnant, and with both of us ready to have our 11-year old daughter finally get her heart fixed.

One of the nurses we had met during our previous visit, Caroline Arpin, was so kind as to accompany us during her day-off throughout Daniela’s entire itinerary of medical tests before surgery.  We also got on the Ronald McDonald House’s waiting list for family housing and we were so fortunate to get accepted the next day.  The Ronald McDonald House became our home away from home in Rochester.

We also took Daniela to the Patient Education Center at Mayo Clinic and received a wonderful presentation by Jane Heser at Child Life Services about surgery and especially what to expect and what to do after surgery to have a better recovery.  After the presentation, Daniela felt more at ease with her upcoming surgery.

On the day of surgery at Mayo Clinic’s Saint Mary’s Hospital, everybody was so very kind and considerate with us.  We got to be with Daniela during all the preparations before surgery, and Victoria got to go with her until Daniela fell asleep (after receiving a bubble gum-flavored anesthetic and hugging her stuffed animal that “stayed with her during surgery”).

The last words Daniela said before going to sleep where: “I love you Mommy.”  At that point, Victoria could not hold her tears, but she was sure everything was going to be fine, and she felt better seeing that Daniela was so calm.

Recovering with Dr. Jack and the Dalai Lama

Surgery went well, and not only did Dr. Dearani fix her heart, but also Dr. Harold Burkhart, her thoracic surgeon, fixed Daniela’s pectus excavatum.  We cannot put into words the confidence and peace that doctors like Dr. Dearani transmit to patients and their relatives.

Daniela woke up after surgery to see that her stuffed kitty was still by her side.  We cannot describe the feeling that we, as parents, had when Daniela started to breathe again without the help of the respirator.  It was like seeing her being born again.

Recovery was tough, but all the nurses at the Intensive Care Unit, and the cardiac surgery recovery rooms where true angels. They were not only remarkably knowledgeable in their medical field but also the kindest of human beings we have ever met.  We could not believe that Daniela had a nurse only for herself!

During our stay at Mayo Clinic’s hospital we saw the hospital helicopter take off several times, and it really felt like a place out of this world, made for millionaires and celebrities. Children patients could even ride in the helicopter at a scheduled time during the week.  One day we saw a huge crowd gathering at the entrance of the hospital – it was the Dalai Lama coming to Mayo Clinic for his medical check-up.  We kid Daniela that even the Dalai Lama had come to visit her, but, truthfully, we could not believe that our daughter was receiving medical care at the same hospital as such an important and inspiring world leader - someone who can choose any hospital in the world.

A Chance Encounter at Alcatraz

A few days after Daniela’s surgery, our Mayo Clinic nurse friend Kate Welp, who had been instrumental in arranging Daniela’s surgery at Mayo Clinic, traveled to Ecuador with a wonderful group of nurse volunteers as part of Kate’s charity in Ecuador Hands for Humanity.  One day, Kate and her team decided to have lunch at a local restaurant, but oddly the restaurant was closed, so one of the local volunteers suggested going to Alcatraz, a small family restaurant nearby.

A woman named Edna runs that restaurant, and when Edna saw the group of nurses, she asked them, “Where are you from?”  Kate and the volunteers responded that they were from Mayo Clinic in the United States.  Edna remarked that her granddaughter had just undergone surgery at the Mayo Clinic. By pure coincidence, Kate – who had been instrumental in organizing Daniela’s surgery – was standing face-to-face with Daniela’s grandmother!  The two women hugged as tears of emotion filled their eyes.  “In that moment,” Kate said, “I knew, I was certain, that Daniela and Mayo Clinic were meant to be in each other’s lives.”

Of course, Edna made sure that lunch was “on–the-house” for this special and unexpected group of Mayo Clinic guests. And, upon their return to Mayo Clinic, Kate and all the nurse volunteers visited Daniela constantly – they even took her to the movie theater and gave her a nice birthday party when Daniela turned 12 just before our return to Ecuador.

Nurse Kate Welp with Daniela's grandparents Edna & Santiago at Alcatraz restaurant in Manta-Ecuador

Photo: Nurse Kate Welp with Daniela's grandparents Edna & Santiago at Alcatraz restaurant in Manta-Ecuador.

A Piece of Mayo Clinic in Ecuador

Just one month after our return to Ecuador, Victoria gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy.  Daniela can now play again with her friends, do physical activity classes at school, and most of all, she can carry her baby brother in her arms without fear that her aorta might rupture.  As we finished the year 2010 and looked back upon all the blessings we received during that year, we can only thank God for placing Mayo Clinic and its wonderful people in our path.

Our story with Mayo Clinic does not end there.  We were fortunate to see a Mayo Clinic Information Office open in Quito, Ecuador this January 2011.  We had the privilege of sitting in the front row at the reception called “A Night with Mayo Clinic.”  It is so nice to feel a part of Mayo Clinic so close to our home.  As we listened to other patients share their wonderful Mayo Clinic experiences at that event, it reinforced our conviction that Mayo Clinic’s extraordinary way of caring for its patients is not an isolated event, but a philosophy deeply rooted in its entire organization and staff.

The family attending "A Night with Mayo Clinic" for the opening of Mayo's information office in Quito, Ecuador, in January 2011

Photo: The family attending "A Night with Mayo Clinic" for the opening of Mayo's information office in Quito, Ecuador, in January 2011.

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Tags: Allison Cabalka, Cardiology, Clínica Mayo, Daniela, Dr. Jack, Ecuador, Harold Burkhart, heart & heart surgery, Joseph Dearani, Loeys-Dietz syndrome, Marfan syndrome, Matthew Clark PhD, miracle, Pectus Excavatum, Pediatrics, Ronald McDonald, surgery

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