Sharing Mayo Clinic

Stories from patients, family, friends and Mayo Clinic staff

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2 days ago · From Walking With a Cane to Biking 100 Miles After Knee Replacement

Pain was Julie Frisby's constant companion after a series of injuries damaged her knee and spine. Knee replacement surgery at Mayo Clinic provided the relief she needed to resume an active life.

Pain was Julie Frisby’s constant companion after a series of injuries damaged her knee and spine. Knee replacement surgery at Mayo Clinic provided the relief she needed to resume an active life.


Before her total knee replacement surgery in February 2017, Julie Frisby was in excruciating pain from a series of injuries. The Ponte Vedra, Florida, resident had damaged her right knee in a water skiing accident 35 years ago. Then a fall in 2012 resulted in a spine injury that exacerbated the degenerative disc disease and myelopathy she already had, causing her right side to jerk and drag.

Her problems didn’t end there. Over the years, scar tissue from orthoscopic surgery to repair Julie’s knee after the skiing accident, along with arthritis, led to the development of valgus deformity — a condition where the knee bows inward. And that problem affected her back, too.

“I had excruciating pain in my back and knee. The only exercise I could do was water aerobics,” Julie says. “I would ride a stationary bike, but my leg was so crooked it would knock into the bike.”

Getting a good night’s rest was also a challenge.

“Sleeping on my side put pressure on the knee that was bowed in, and sleeping on my back was hard because I couldn’t straighten my leg totally. It was very painful,” Julie says.

The process of finding relief began with a suggestion from a friend who had undergone successful knee replacement at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus and encouraged Julie to make an appointment. That encouragement made all the difference.

Pressing ahead

Julie and her husband had recently moved to Florida from Washington, D.C., so after hearing her friend’s glowing report, Julie requested an appointment at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus. She met with orthopedic surgeon Cedric Ortiguera, M.D., in January 2017. After evaluating her condition, Dr. Ortiguera was confident surgery could help Julie.

“Because of my back and the severity of the valgus deformity, he strongly recommended a total knee replacement,” Julie recalls. “He told me the surgery would straighten my leg.”


“I garden in my yard, which I haven’t done in years. I used to walk with a cane, and I hardly ever do that now. It’s just amazing.” — Julie Frisby


Julie took that recommendation and went forward with total knee replacement on Feb. 22, 2017.  After some physical therapy the next morning, she was able to go home.

“From the minute I woke from surgery, I’ve progressed quickly and pressed ahead,” Julie says. “Dr. Ortiguera is brilliant. He aligned everything so right. My leg is straight. It’s a miracle.”

Getting back in the saddle

Julie spent three weeks after her surgery doing outpatient physical therapy, and she got back on the stationary bike that has caused her so much trouble before surgery. After seeing someone riding a recumbent trike, she bought one for herself in March. Since then, Julie has become an avid cyclist.

“At first it was my rehab for my knee, but it’s turned into a new passion,” she says. “I ride over 100 miles a week. I’m enjoying this wonderful gift Dr. Ortiguera gave me.”

Julie no longer takes pain medication for her knee, and the surgery has improved her back.

“The pain in my back is subsiding.  I garden in my yard, which I haven’t done in years,” Julie says. “I used to walk with a cane, and I hardly ever do that now. It’s just amazing.”


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4 days ago · Novel Stem Cell Treatment Means New Lease on Life

As part of a pioneering clinical trial, Jared Ausnehmer had millions of stem cells injected into his heart to help treat a debilitating heart condition. That treatment has opened the door to renewed health for Jared.

As part of a pioneering clinical trial, Jared Ausnehmer had millions of stem cells injected into his heart to help treat a debilitating heart condition. That treatment has opened the door to renewed health for Jared.


Halloween is an especially meaningful day for Jared Ausnehmer and his family. On Oct. 31, 2011, Jared’s family saw a news story about a man who had had stem cells injected into his heart to reverse damage from a heart attack. Jared’s mom, Patty Ausnehmer, wondered if this type of treatment could help her son, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome — a birth defect in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped or nonexistent.

The news story kicked off a search for answers that led Jared and Patty to Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, where he participated in an innovative clinical trial. The trial paved the way for Jared to have successful heart surgery. As a result, Jared is no longer weighed down by his heart condition, and he’s returned to the athletic activities he enjoys.

Mayo Clinic is an amazing place. They care, and they know what they’re doing,” Jared says. “I’m most grateful that I’m not sick anymore and everything went well. You can’t take that for granted.”

Search for something better

A rare congenital heart disease, hypoplastic left heart syndrome affects only about 1,000 newborns in the U.S. each year. Jared received a variety of treatments, including multiple surgeries during his first year of life and medications to improve his heart function. Still, by the time Jared reached his early 20s, his heart was enlarged and its neoaortic valve was leaking badly.

“I just didn’t feel well. I was tired all the time and was retaining a lot of fluid,” says Jared, who went from playing basketball and softball, and running track in the Special Olympics, to lying on the couch all day.

Eager for a new treatment option, Patty called the hospital that was mentioned on the news. Unfortunately, they weren’t doing stem cell therapy for Jared’s condition. But she didn’t stop there. The story spurred Patty to learn more about the possibility of stem cell therapy for hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

In the course of her research, Patty found Mayo Clinic’s Center for Regenerative Medicine and had a phone consult with Tim Nelson, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic physician and researcher whose work focuses on congenital heart disease. Dr. Nelson told Patty that Mayo Clinic was starting stem cell therapy for infants with hypoplastic left heart syndrome but not for young adults like Jared.

“I explained our mission and desire to design such a trial in the future,” Dr. Nelson says.

Although treatment with stem cells wasn’t an option at that time, Jared and his family learned that through Mayo Clinic’s Todd and Karen Wanek Family Program for Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, he could participate in another study and receive care from Mayo Clinic doctors with years of experience in treating the condition until a stem cell clinical trial became available.

Marked improvement

When Jared and Patty came to Mayo Clinic in April 2012, Jared’s condition had deteriorated to the point that he had to carry an oxygen tank with him to breathe, and his abdomen was swollen with retained fluid.

“He had cardiac cirrhosis, and his kidneys were starting to fail,” Patty says. “If he didn’t improve, he would need a heart, kidney and liver transplant.”

The doctors found Jared was too ill to undergo valve replacement surgery. Instead, they suggested a more intense medication program to help him better tolerate the effects of the leaky valve and possibly regain some of his heart function.

Over the next few weeks, pediatric cardiologist Patrick O’Leary, M.D., increased the dosage of one of Jared’s heart medicines, restarted another and added a new medication.


“You have this feeling of ‘My gosh, I’m finally in the right place.’ I saw people that care and were moving mountains for my child.” — Patty Ausnehmer


“The goal was to help Jared’s heart muscle cope with the extra work load it was facing — pumping blood to his body rather than to the lungs and also pumping much more blood per minute due to the leaky valve,” Dr. O’Leary says. “Jared improved almost immediately and surprisingly continued to improve with each medication adjustment.”

“You have this feeling of ‘My gosh, I’m finally in the right place.’ I saw people that care and were moving mountains for my child,” Patty says.

With the improvement, Jared was able to return home, where he received care from a local cardiologist in Youngstown, Ohio, who was in frequent communication with the Mayo Clinic doctors.

In October of the following year, Jared returned for follow-up tests at Mayo Clinic. The results showed that his ejection fraction, a measurement of the percentage of blood leaving the heart each time it contracts, had increased from 15 to 30 percent.

“The really remarkable thing was how much he changed in terms of his heart’s day-to-day function. Normally under these conditions, the right ventricle’s muscle would wear out,” Dr. O’Leary says. “The turnaround he achieved with medications — from crippling heart failure to being an active healthy appearing young adult — is something I have only encountered in his case.”

Hope on the horizon

Dr. Nelson told the Ausnehmers that he was trying to secure permission from the Food and Drug Administration to use bone-marrow-derived stem cells for young adults with hypoplastic left heart syndrome.

“We were in the process of creating something that had not been created before,” Dr. Nelson says. “The idea behind this study was to use the stem cells as ‘fertilizer’ for the heart muscle to stimulate the heart to grow bigger and stronger, and undergo a regenerative process that would improve heart function.”

Unfortunately, in the spring of 2014, Jared was admitted to the intensive care unit at a local hospital.

“He was dehydrated, and his kidneys were not working,” Patty says. “They gave him liquids and took him off the heart medications and one of his diuretics. He started feeling better.”

After being discharged, Jared started being monitored by a local nephrologist. His kidney function improved as the family waited for the stem cell therapy trial to begin.

“Heart transplantation is usually the only option in these circumstances, but for Jared even that was not a good choice,” Dr. O’Leary says. “His body was already sensitized to many human proteins from his past treatments, making rejection of a transplanted organ very likely.”

“Jared’s heart was working twice as hard, and there was no way for him to continue to have the kind of life we wanted him to have without the stem cell treatment,” Patty says. “We knew his heart was going to fail, but we didn’t know when. Still we were optimistic.”

On Halloween weekend in 2015, the family got the call they been waiting for since 2012. Dr. O’Leary said they were ready to begin the stem cell clinical trial and wanted Jared to be the first of 10 participants.

New strength

On Dec. 16, 2015, in the first clinical trial of its kind, Jared had 94 million stem cells from his own bone marrow injected into his right ventricle through a heart catheterization. The results were significant. Within a month, Jared’s ejection fraction increased to 40 percent.

“Jared had a very remarkable response to this stem cell therapy,” says Yasir Qureshi, M.B.B.S., lead investigator for the clinical trial. “While we predicted increased heart function, Jared has surpassed all expectations.”

“He had this second wind he hadn’t had in a long time,” Patty says. “He seemed like he was so much better in every way.”

By August 2016, Jared’s heart was strong enough to undergo open heart surgery to replace his leaky valve. Cardiothoracic surgeon Joseph Dearani, M.D., did the valve replacement on Aug. 24 and placed a pacemaker in Jared’s abdomen.


“Jared had a very remarkable response to this stem cell therapy. While we predicted increased heart function, Jared has surpassed all expectations.” — Yasir Qureshi, M.B.B.S.


“It’s common for patients that have a Fontan circulation like Jared to have a slow heart rate,” Dr. Dearani says. “We put a pacemaker in to ensure the heart has the ability to slow down and speed up depending on his activity level.”

“With the new mechanical valve, his endurance was way up. It was like a new lease on life,” Patty says.

After eight days in the hospital, Jared headed home to get back to normal life. Two months after his surgery, he was cleared to play basketball.

“I’m relieved that it’s all done. That’s the best part,” Jared says. “My goal was to get to basketball and compete at state.”

Winning ways

Jared has follow-up appointments every six months, but he hasn’t experienced any significant problems, and he’s back to athletic competition. Six months after the valve replacement, Jared won first place in the running long jump and got third place in the 100-yard dash at the Special Olympics.

“Short of contact sports, he can do anything he wants to do and move toward achieving his goals and aspirations,” Dr. Dearani says. “It’s a great feeling to know I was able to make a difference in what his quality of life could be.”


“Jared is doing fantastic. He’s our inspiration to keep moving forward with what we’re doing.” — Tim Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.


“For him to do what he wants to do is amazing,” Patty says. “He can now get married and have kids and make a life for himself without this hanging over him anymore.”

The clinical trial is slated to be completed by the end of 2017. Dr. Nelson and his entire team are grateful for the trust everyone who is part of the study has placed in them.

“The pioneering spirit of these patients and their families to be the first ones to do this is inspirational, and we take that very seriously. It’s like a sacred bond,” Dr. Nelson says. “Jared is doing fantastic. He’s our inspiration to keep moving forward with what we’re doing.”


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Fri, Aug 11 11:10am · Random Chat With a Stranger Leads to a Second Chance at Life

 When John Branson struck up a conversation with Edgar Roberts, the two had no way of knowing their chance meeting would motivate John to become Edgar's kidney donor. But that's exactly what happened. Today, Edgar is enjoying renewed health, thanks to John's generosity.

When John Branson struck up a conversation with Edgar Roberts, the two had no way of knowing their chance meeting would motivate John to become Edgar’s kidney donor. But that’s exactly what happened. Today, Edgar is enjoying renewed health, thanks to John’s generosity.


John Branson has saved many a life during his 28 years as a police officer in Anderson, Indiana. And while the lieutenant has performed CPR on several people and stopped a man from jumping off a bridge, he had no idea that a casual conversation while on vacation would become a life-saving encounter.

On April 21, 2016, John was vacationing in Georgia and stopped in a restaurant for dinner. His son was about to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, so when John saw an older gentleman wearing a Marine Corps cap, he decided to say hello.

That man was Edgar Roberts, a Vietnam veteran turned pastor from Valdosta, Georgia. The two men talked about Edgar’s service in Vietnam. Then the conversation turned to his health. Edgar had lost both kidneys to diabetes, and he had been on dialysis for six years. He’d been waiting for a kidney transplant for two years.

“We got to sharing, and I told him about my many years on dialysis,” Edgar says. “He asked me what my blood type was. It turned out we had the same blood type,”

John picked up the breakfast bill, and Edgar recalls, “After he paid, he told me ‘I’ll give you my kidney.’ I was shocked, hoping this was real.”

Seeing the benefits of living donation

With living-donor kidney transplants becoming more common, the prospect of John being able to donate one of his kidneys to Edgar was not out of the realm of possibility. According to Martin Mai, M.D., medical director for the kidney and pancreas transplant programs at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, living-donor transplants now account for one-third of the kidney transplants done each year in the United States.


“I was overjoyed and thanking God for putting John in my life. I was ready to give up before meeting him.” — Edgar Roberts


“Without this option, the wait for deceased-donor kidney transplant would be significantly longer,” Dr. Mai says. “Living-donor kidneys have an added benefit in that they work longer than deceased-donor kidneys, meaning there is a decreased chance of a patient needing additional kidney transplants.”

Dr. Mai says that living-donor surgery has also increased with the development of laparoscopic removal of the kidney — a technique that makes recovery quicker for the kidney donor.

Changing a life

At the end of their conversation in the restaurant, Edgar and John exchanged phone numbers. Over the next few months, they spoke regularly. After a call in January 2017, John knew his friend wasn’t doing well. He began the process to see if he was a match for Edgar. A few weeks later, John got the news that he was an eligible donor.

“I was overjoyed and thanking God for putting John in my life. I was ready to give up before meeting him,” Edgar says of learning his new friend could donate a kidney to him.

“My biggest push for giving Edgar a kidney was thinking, ‘What if I don’t need my two kidneys, and I die with both of them?’ I have the opportunity to change someone’s life,” says John, who visited Valdosta to meet the pastor’s family and congregation. He then came to Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus in April for a week of testing.

“I was concerned that my health might not be as good as I thought it was,” John says. “It was incredible the time Mayo not only put in to clear me to donate but also to ensure I was healthy enough to give Edgar my kidney.”

John was approved to become a donor on May 6. The transplant surgery took place on May 17.

Relishing new possibilities

The day after the transplant, the two men had an opportunity to talk.

“I got a little choked up,” John says. “I elected to do this because it was the right thing to do. It felt really good to do this. I didn’t know when I made the offer what a great person he really is.”

John says that since he donated his kidney, he’s adopted a healthier diet. He quit drinking soda and walks about 10 miles a day. He’s looking forward to getting back to the gym soon, too.

The experience, John says, “makes you realize that you spend your whole youth chasing wealth, and then you chase your health. I don’t want to do that.”


“I elected to do this because it was the right thing to do. It felt really good to do this. I didn’t know when I made the offer what a great person he really is.” — John Branson


John adds that the men consider themselves family now. And each is looking forward to a brighter future.

“I get texts from someone in Edgar’s family every day. They’re putting me on lists for family reunions. I have more family now than I ever had,” says John, who now refers to his kidney recipient’s three daughters as ‘Sis.’

Edgar, of course, is beyond touched.

“What John gave me is priceless. It’s a lifeline,” he says. “When you have dialysis, there are so many restrictions. I’ve always been mobile and active. To be able to go see people and talk to folks, that’s just a blessing to me. Now I can spend more time with my grandchildren and my wife. I’m excited for the future.”


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Wed, Aug 9 11:00am · Overwhelmed, Breast Cancer Patient Finds Answer in Mayo's Centralized Care and Treatment

Renee Hill was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and was overcome with an avalanche of emotions. She's grateful for the range of resources Mayo brings to her care.

Renee Hill had received opinions from other health care facilities but desperately wanted to have her medical care centralized and coordinated. “My gut was telling me Mayo was where I needed to go,” she says. 


When Renee Hill was diagnosed with breast cancer — stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma — on her birthday in July 2016, she was overcome with an avalanche of emotions. And questions.

“I was scared as to what the future may hold. I was just getting my life settled again after the loss of my parents the prior year and was overwhelmed as to how I was going to handle my health care, a new job, my parent’s estate and my two residences, one in Minnesota and the other on the East Coast,” Renee says. “Once the shock wore off, I realized cancer had to be prioritized without dropping other responsibilities.”

The single, 48-year-old director in financial services did what most people who get diagnosed with cancer do — she got on the internet.

“I wanted to know everything about my diagnosis but quickly found myself immersed in information,.” Renee says. “The more research I did, the more stress and confusion it caused.”

She had received two opinions from other health care facilities before seeking a third opinion at Mayo Clinic. She desperately wanted to have her medical care centralized and coordinated without sacrificing top-notch health care.

“Before I decided to come to Mayo, I was managing all my health records and appointments. It took a long time to get the appointments, and I spent countless hours in waiting rooms,” Renee says. “I almost canceled my first consult at Mayo because I was so tired at that point. Still my gut was telling me Mayo was where I needed to go.”

A Turning Point

Renee says her first meeting with Marcia Venegas Pont, M.D., in the Breast Diagnostic Clinic was a turning point in her cancer journey.

Dr. Venegas Pont talked with her about a web-based educational tool delivered on a mobile device that was developed by a team of Mayo breast experts, led by Sandhya Pruthi, M.D.

“The application provided a personalized experience so I could easily weigh the pros and cons of each of my treatment and surgical options,” Renee says.

The Breast Cancer Surgical Decision Support Tool, which launched in April 2015, walked her through all of the treatment options for her specific type of breast cancer, risks and benefits and recovery.


“I’m grateful that my doctors took the time to answer my questions and I had the application to support my decision-making process.” — Renee Hill 


“We originally set out to build a digital web-based education decision support tool that could rate a patient’s readiness for a specific procedure so we could determine if they needed more time before making a decision,” Dr. Pruthi says. “It ended up being a comprehensive educational tool that has given patients a more individualized approach to cancer care and treatment that they wouldn’t get anywhere else.”

Mayo Clinic patients have access to the tool through an iPad they are loaned at the time of their initial breast cancer consultation for use through their preoperative journey.

“I wish I would have started with Mayo Clinic initially, as this application would have saved a lot of time trying to do the research on my own,” Renee explains.

Many options to consider

Renee was given the opportunity to explore all of the treatment options available, including clinical trials, by meeting with a multidisciplinary team of doctors including oncologist Matthew Goetz, M.D., breast surgeon Tina Hieken, M.D., and plastic surgeon Oscar Manrique, M.D.

“The patient is more informed because of the educational content in the tool, which makes each consult more productive,” Dr. Pruthi says.

“All of the doctors provided me with various options,” Renee says. “Breast cancer is complex, so I’m grateful that my doctors took the time to answer my questions and I had the application to support my decision making process.”


“I still have more milestones to reach in the near future, but I remain grateful that Mayo will help me through the next round.” — Renee Hill 


Renee was also intent on continuing to work through her treatment and not just being focused on her cancer. The app provided a treatment timeline she could present to her supervisor.

Although she has a supportive network of friends, it was important for Renee to tackle as much of her cancer journey on her own as possible.

“I felt very cared for at Mayo and never alone,” she says. “The staff is so friendly and attentive. I didn’t wait long for my appointments, and the environment doesn’t feel like a hospital, which helped control my anxiety.”

More milestones to come

“My diagnosis is not unique, but my experience is. I just celebrated another birthday, and there is no better gift than being cancer-free,” Renee says. “I still have more milestones to reach in the near future, but I remain grateful that Mayo will help me through the next round.”

And she says she’s grateful for the range of resources Mayo brings to her care.

“The web-based educational tool, the multidisciplinary team, more access to clinical trials, and a caring environment have made all the difference in managing everything on my plate,” Renee says. “Mayo is not just an excellent institution. It’s a community.”


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Mon, Aug 7 9:11pm · 'There Isn't Another Place in the World I Would Rather Crash'

Carbon monoxide poisoning led to a plane crash that sent pilot Dan Bass to the hospital at Mayo Clinic. His doctors were able to treat his injuries and help him successfully recover, thanks in part to hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Carbon monoxide poisoning led to a plane crash that sent pilot Dan Bass to the hospital at Mayo Clinic. His doctors were able to treat his injuries and help him  recover from the poisoning, thanks in part to hyperbaric oxygen therapy.


The last thing Dan Bass remembers about his flight from Duluth, Minnesota, on Feb. 2, 2017, is turning on the autopilot for his piston-powered, single-engine plane and being cleared for his destination — Winona, Minnesota.

Shortly into the flight, he knew something was wrong. He experienced a strong headache and a butterfly feeling in his stomach. He began to feel anxious. Dan strongly considered calling air traffic control to ask if he could land. Just 10 minutes after take-off, Dan lost consciousness. His plane continued on autopilot, traveling south from Duluth at 13,000 feet for an hour and a half until it ran out of gas and crashed in a field 45 miles from Rochester, Minnesota, shortly before 8 p.m.

Miraculously, he survived. Injuries from the crash landed Dan in the hospital at Mayo Clinic, where his care team discovered that his symptoms and loss of consciousness during the flight were a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Fortunately for Dan, his treatment at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus — including hyperbaric oxygen therapy — helped him recover and become well enough to return to the skies.

A search for help

When Dan regained consciousness after the plane crash and realized what had happened, he tried to find his flashlight and his cell phone. He couldn’t locate either one. Then he tried to get out of the plane.

“I couldn’t move my legs and thought initially that I was paralyzed. Then I was able to move my toes and realized my feet were pinned,” Dan says. “After I got free and got out of the plane, I started to walk toward the road. I couldn’t walk more than a couple steps before falling down. I crawled some and tried to walk again, but I was physically exhausted.”

While lying on the ground, Dan noticed buildings in the distance. He got up and started walking in that direction. It was around 9 p.m., and it was 5 degrees outside.


“The trauma staff has this innate ability to calm you down. They worked really fast and all of them were personable.” — Dan Bass


Dan found a house and could see a woman sitting in her living room through the window. As he made his way up the driveway, he started yelling for help. When she opened the door, Dan told her he’d crashed his plane, and asked her to call 911 and call his wife. Soon after, Dan was taken by ambulance to a helicopter that was waiting to fly him to Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester. That was one aspect of the situation that made Dan feel lucky.

“I passed out going in a direction that flew me to Mayo Clinic,” Dan says. “The trauma staff has this innate ability to calm you down. They worked really fast and all of them were personable.”

A full recovery

In the Emergency Department at the hospital, Dan learned he had a spine compression fracture, a puncture wound on his knee, a laceration on his upper lip, and a broken upper jaw. He also found out why he’d passed out at the start of his flight.

A crack in the exhaust of the plane had been leaking fumes into the cabin through the plane’s heating system during the flight. Blood work showed that the level of carbon monoxide in Dan’s bloodstream was high at 13.8 percent.

People who lose consciousness due to carbon monoxide are at significant risk of neurologic injuries that can develop days or weeks after the poisoning. Those injuries can lead to memory loss, confusion, personality changes, altered mood, hallucinations and Parkinson-like movement disorders.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy helps clear carbon monoxide by dramatically increasing blood oxygen levels. Patients breathe 100 percent oxygen while under three times normal air pressure in a sealed room. The delivery of oxygen at that increased pressure is 15 times more than what is possible at normal air pressure.


“There isn’t another place in the world I would rather crash. All the nurses, all the staff, everybody I dealt with was great.” — Dan Bass


“This therapy limits further ischemic brain cell injury by reducing swelling, delivering high levels of dissolved oxygen, and limiting the toxic effects of carbon monoxide on those cells,” says Paul Claus, M.D., medical director of the Mayo Clinic Hyperbaric and Altitude Medicine Program.

A respiratory therapist recommended the oxygen therapy for Dan. Although he was a bit skeptical at first, Dan had the treatment at noon the next day.

“They took me to three atmospheres, which is about 100 feet below sea level,” Dan says. “My first treatment was three hours long.”

Dan had two more treatments the following day.

Breathing easier

Since his treatment, Dan hasn’t experienced any symptoms from his exposure to carbon monoxide, and recovery from his other injuries has gone smoothly.

The Winona native, who’s been flying since he was 17, is now out of the brace that immobilized his back for three months while his body healed, and he’s ready to get back in the pilot seat. Although being involved in a plane crash is not something he would choose to experience, Dan is grateful he came down where he did.

“There isn’t another place in the world I would rather crash,” Dan says. “All the nurses, all the staff, everybody I dealt with was great.”


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Wed, Aug 2 4:05pm · After a Serious Motorcycle Accident, Sue Bothun Is Back on the Road

Registered nurse Sue Bothun is loving life again after recovering from a devastating accident that put her in the care of Mayo Clinic orthopedic surgeons.

Sue Bothun is living life again and getting back to the work she loves after recovering from a devastating accident, with the help of her orthopedic surgeons and Mayo Clinic’s back-to-work program.


For more than half her life, Sue Bothun has been a motorcycle rider. To the Mayo Clinic nurse, motorcycling is a way of life and a means to experience the grace and fellowship encountered on the open road.

Sue believes the art and act of motorcycling is essential to her psyche. So much so that despite a serious accident in June 2016, in which she fractured her foot, leg, wrist and thumb, today she is back in the rider’s seat.

“People don’t understand what motorcycles are about,” says Sue, who was born and raised in Rochester, Minnesota, and has worked at Mayo Clinic for 10 years. “It’s about getting out in God’s country and seeing his splendor and meeting people, because the camaraderie between bikers is profound.”

Sue’s orthopedic surgeon, Brandon Yuan, M.D., says there’s no question Sue’s attitude and determination played an important role in her recovery. “Patients with severe injuries to their arms and legs, who have a high level of self-motivation and family support, have much better outcomes than those who lack those factors,” Dr. Yuan says.

He adds that the fact Sue has resumed riding motorcycle doesn’t raise any red flags. In fact, it’s just the opposite. “I tell my patients my goal is to get them healed and back doing the things they enjoy doing,” he explains.

The level of recovery Sue has achieved wasn’t a given, however.

“She had a very severe injury to her leg and her foot, if a couple of other things had gone wrong instead of right, she might have even ended up with an amputation,” he says. “It was that severe.”

Adventure, accident and air lift

The accident occurred when Sue was on the tail end of a solo bike trip. It was a journey she’d always wanted to take. It brought her to Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. She was in a rural area of Missouri, just south of the Iowa border, at about 10:30 in the morning when she was hit in an intersection.

Sue was wearing her helmet, and when she landed after the impact, she sat up and saw her left leg was at an impossible angle. It was damaged so badly that when an ambulance appeared on scene, emergency medical technicians couldn’t splint it for the 30-minute ride to the nearest hospital.

When she arrived at the hospital, Sue was immediately taken for X-rays. Doctors informed her that everything checked out OK except for her leg and right thumb. Both of the bones in her lower left leg — the tibia and fibula — were shattered. Sue informed the hospital staff that she worked for Mayo Clinic and, as part of her insurance benefits, she was eligible for a medical flight back home.


“When you’re used to the care of Mayo Clinic, and you’re somewhere else and you’re scared, it’s just something to get back home again with people you trust.” — Sue Bothun


“They all thought I was crazy,” Sue says. “Then I started talking to my surgeon about how I could be stabilized to get me on a flight back home.”

The surgeon decided that surgery to repair her shattered leg couldn’t be delayed. By noon Sue was in the operating room, where she underwent an eight-hour procedure to repair her leg and place a pin in her thumb. But first thing the next morning, Sue called the Mayo Clinic nurse line phone number printed on her insurance card.

“I started to cry the first time I called the nurse line,” Sue says. “I said to her, ‘I am so grateful that I’m talking to you. Can you please just get me home?’ When you’re used to the care of Mayo Clinic, and you’re somewhere else and you’re scared, it’s just something to get back home again with people you trust.”

By 3 p.m. that afternoon, Sue was on a plane to Rochester.

“I just felt like I was going to get taken care of,” Sue says of returning to Mayo Clinic. “I don’t know if I felt more comfortable or that they were doing a better job managing my pain, but I felt so much better being here.”

Repair, rehabilitation and return to work

Back at Mayo Clinic, Sue received additional imaging of her injured limbs. CT scans revealed injuries that earlier imaging missed, including a shattered left foot and a fractured right wrist.

“Some initial treatment had already been performed, but there were a number of other injuries that needed to be addressed and more surgery was needed to correct those injuries,” Dr. Yuan says. “My main concerns were that the wounds she had from the first surgery might not heal, that the bones they had fixed might not heal, and I was worried that there were other injuries that needed surgery that hadn’t been addressed yet.”

First, the swelling of the tissues on Sue’s leg wounds needed to decrease, so her doctors could monitor the skin for proper healing. The next step was to correct Sue’s broken foot — a serious injury that had not been identified in Missouri.

“I was astounded that they never looked at my foot, and they said my wrist was OK,” Sue says. “It’s a testament to the advancements in medical imaging that Mayo has. They can just see more and have better trained radiologists.”


“[Dr. Yuan] did such a good job reconstructing my leg. He gave me the resources so I could walk again. And he does it with a smile. Every time he walks in I feel like he’s happy to see me.” — Sue Bothun


Sue was released from the hospital after a week. Over the course of the next year, Sue had four additional surgeries to correct her foot, modify her leg bones and remove hardware. The surgeries included a bone graft operation during which Dr. Yuan removed bone from Sue’s pelvis and grafted it to her tibia, which wasn’t healing correctly. Four weeks following the bone graft, Sue was outfitted with a walking boot.

“Dr. Yuan said I could walk with the boot. Two weeks after that, I was off the opioid medications, so I could drive,” Sue says. “I was trying to get back to do some kind of nursing and use my mind.”

With the help of her return-to-work consultant, Sue was offered a position in the Department of Family Medicine at Mayo Family Clinic Southeast in Rochester. She was provided a parking spot close to the door, an electric scooter to get around the office, and a device that enabled her to elevate her leg.

“I can’t say enough about the return-to-work program,” Sue says. “When you’re still healing and don’t know what your future is, just having that little bit of normalcy in your life is huge. I became a nurse so I could help other people, and when you have others care for you, it’s very humbling.”

At the clinic, Sue worked four-hour shifts, three days a week with patients who use Mayo Clinic’s Patient Online Services.

“It wasn’t hands-on patient care, but it was patient care, so I was able to talk to patients and really get a sense of being a nurse again,” Sue says. “Having the ability to help other people when I myself needed help helped my psyche.”

Novel brace, nursing and normalcy

Before the accident, Sue worked as a postoperative nurse. There was a time when she didn’t know if she was going to be able to return to that role. But Dr. Yuan urged her to look into acquiring a specialized energy-storing leg brace. That brace now enables Sue to move around with minimized pain and has helped her get back to providing face-to-face patient care.

“I have to give a shout out to Dr. Yuan,” Sue says. “He did such a good job reconstructing my leg. He gave me the resources so I could walk again. And he does it with a smile. Every time he walks in I feel like he’s happy to see me.”

Sue also gives credit to her return-to-work consultant, Eric Batterson.

“The fact that he could find something to accommodate my restrictions and help me continue progressing back to being a floor nurse, or wherever my future leads, I know Eric’s got my back,” Sue says. “He coordinated it all so seamlessly and was instrumental in getting me back to being a nurse again.”

Although the surgeries are done, Sue continues to receive physical therapy to strengthen her leg and core, which are essential to walking with her new leg brace. But her life, including motorcycling, is back on track.

“This kind of thing could’ve defined me, but I’m not going to let it,” she says. “Of course, I’m going to have bad days along with good days. But I’m not going to let it define who I am for the rest of my life.”


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Mon, Jul 31 8:25am · For Jim Heinl, Fighting Cancer is a Team Effort

With his wife by his side and a team of experts at Mayo Clinic to help him through, Jim Heinl faced down a cancer recurrence and then went back to a life focused on family.

With his wife by his side and a team of experts at Mayo Clinic to help him through, Jim Heinl faced down a cancer recurrence and then went back to a life focused on family.


First diagnosed at age 16, Jim Heinl knows full well what it’s like to be forced to deal with cancer. But he’s never had to face it alone. Jim’s high school sweetheart and wife of 26 years, Tami, has been by his side through it all. And, when the cancer came back decades later, Jim had a team of specialists at Mayo Clinic to depend on, too.

“When your life’s at stake, that’s where you want to be,” Jim says. “That’s where everyone is fighting for you.”

In 1985, Jim learned he had a rare form of liver cancer called fibrolamellar hepatoma. Treatment involved removing two-thirds of his liver.  But that wasn’t enough. The disease returned four years later, and the recurrence required Jim to undergo a liver transplant.

For 25 years after that, all was well. Jim graduated from college in 1990, and he and Tami were married in 1991. Over the next nine years, the couple welcomed four children to their family. They were the center of Jim’s world.

“My favorite thing to do is spend time with my wife and kids,” he says. “I love making them laugh and hearing them laugh.”


“Mayo Clinic was absolutely incredible about making sure that they were not only listening to Jim, but listening to me as well, knowing we were a team.” — Tami Heinl


But in 2014, Jim’s medical situation took a scary turn. Scans revealed several spots on his left lung, as well as a mass in his pancreas. Jim’s physician at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus, Thomas Byrne, M.D., in the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, decided to take a closer look, and he wanted to get his colleagues involved, too. Dr. Byrne brought Jim’s case to a Mayo Clinic tumor board where experts discuss complex cases to determine the best approach for each patient. In Jim’s case, the group agreed surgery would be best.

On Oct. 30, 2014, Jim underwent surgery to remove four areas of cancer that had been identified in his pancreas and lung. Afterward, follow-up testing showed no signs of cancer, and none have appeared since then.

Looking back on the experience at Mayo Clinic, Tami is grateful not only for the care Jim received, but for his caregivers’ willingness to include her in the process.

“Mayo Clinic was absolutely incredible about making sure that they were not only listening to Jim, but listening to me as well, knowing we were a team,” she says. “I love how everyone there has so much energy, so much passion and so much knowledge. They walk into the room, and you are their main focus.”

Although he continues to have regular checkups to make sure he remains cancer-free, today the disease is no longer front and center in Jim’s life. Instead, he’s back to spending time with and traveling with his family. Jim’s also returned to having fun with his hobbies, including playing billiards, enjoying family game night, listening to music and rooting for his favorite college football team — the Ohio State Buckeyes.

You can hear more about Jim’s story in the following video:


 


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Fri, Jul 28 8:30am · Jennifer's Long Journey to a Kidney Transplant Leads to Renewed Health

After waiting more than a decade for a kidney transplant and enduring a host of health challenges in the meantime, Jennifer Longoria finally received a new kidney, and a new opportunity for a healthy life, at Mayo Clinic.

After waiting more than a decade for a kidney transplant and enduring a host of health challenges in the meantime, Jennifer Longoria finally received a new kidney, and a new opportunity for a healthy life, at Mayo Clinic.


Jennifer Longoria was once told by her doctor that she was “a walking miracle who should be curled up dead.” Given the symptoms she had experienced as a college student, when nearly every morning she felt so sick it was agony to get out of bed, she felt strangely vindicated to hear that news.

Jennifer was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, a condition that causes inflammation in the kidneys, which in turn hampers the body’s ability to filter waste from the blood. At the time of her diagnosis, Jennifer’s kidneys were functioning at only 7 percent. She was just 21 years old.

Asked by a doctor in their hometown of El Paso, Texas, how Jennifer still managed to function, her mother and devoted caregiver, Valerie Edmiston, replied, “Obviously you don’t know my daughter’s strength and perseverance.”

Jennifer needed that strength, because the road to a kidney transplant was her only hope for survival — and Jennifer would be on that road for more than a decade. Eventually, though, a kidney transplant at Mayo Clinic would release Jennifer from years of dialysis, surgeries and exhaustion, and free her to enjoy a life of renewed health.

Enduring years of struggle

Jennifer’s journey to a transplant was fraught with setbacks and complications. Valerie remembers every bump and pothole.

“Jennifer’s hair fell out by the handfuls,” Valerie says. “She would sleep for days.”

Jennifer’s biggest scare came the night when the peritoneal catheter in her stomach broke, making it impossible for her to receive her dialysis medication. The cause was peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdominal wall often triggered by an infection or a rupture. That frightening event caused Jennifer to be off dialysis for a week, which alarmed Valerie to the point where she told doctors she thought her daughter was dying. Jennifer went back on dialysis.


“You have two choices. You either fight, or lie down and die.” — Jennifer Longoria


All agreed it was time for Jennifer to seriously begin the process of moving toward a kidney transplant. Because patients can be listed for transplantation at more than one medical center, Jennifer and Valerie contacted hospitals in Miami and Houston. Their experience was disappointing. She was on the transplant waiting list for 12 years in Miami and nine years in Houston.

“It wasn’t good,” Jennifer says. “I was treated like a paycheck and a number.”

Jennifer continued to receive home dialysis in El Paso — 10 hours at night and two more sessions during the day. That commitment meant Jennifer had no time for friends or a full-time job. In all, Jennifer was on dialysis for more than 13 years.

Looking to a new alternative

Then in 2016, someone at her dialysis center approached Jennifer and asked, “Why don’t you contact Mayo Clinic about getting a kidney transplant?” Neither Jennifer nor Valerie had been aware of that option, and Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus was only a seven-hour drive from El Paso.

Jennifer called Mayo Clinic in May and an appointment for her transplant evaluation was set for August. But Jennifer’s medical complications escalated while she waited in El Paso. This time it was Jennifer who said, “Mom, I’m dying. My heart hurts.” Jennifer was hospitalized for two weeks with a severe lung infection. Despite the new health challenge, Jennifer and Valerie were determined to make it to Mayo Clinic for her evaluation. The pair even drove through a blinding rain and lightning storm from El Paso to Phoenix to get to Mayo Clinic Hospital.

Less than a week later, while at Mayo Clinic, Jennifer announced, “Everything is spinning!” Quickly placed in a wheelchair, Jennifer promptly went into cardiac arrest. She was rushed to the Emergency Department, where she learned that she needed a pacemaker implanted immediately.

Although terrified, Jennifer persevered while the pacemaker was implanted, thanks to nurses holding her hand and encouraging her. Jennifer calls that “the first time that Mayo Clinic saved my life.” Two more chances for Mayo Clinic to save her life were still to come.

Two months later, during a pacemaker checkup, Jennifer’s care team found that her dialysis had stopped working because she had developed pericarditis — inflammation of the tissue surrounding her heart. She was hospitalized at Mayo Clinic Hospital for two weeks.

“That was the second time Mayo saved my life,” Jennifer says. Valerie adds, “What a blessing Mayo is.”

Thriving after transplant

Back home again, the call Jennifer and Valerie had been anticipating for years finally came on Jan. 30, 2017. At the time, they were four hours out of El Paso, having visited Jennifer’s grandmother. But they stepped it up as they headed home, made their flight on time and arrived in Phoenix at 8 a.m. the next day. All went well with the transplant surgery. Jennifer even surprised the staff with her newfound energy after surgery was complete.


“[The Village at Mayo Clinic] is like one big family. I love the staff and community of people going through the same thing.” — Jennifer Longoria


Two days after her kidney transplant, Jennifer and Valerie were welcomed at The Village at Mayo Clinic, where they stayed so Jennifer could rest and recuperate in the serene desert setting.

“It’s like one big family.” Jennifer says. “I love the staff and community of people going through the same thing.”

They returned home on March 12, where Jennifer now devotes her time to doing inspirational speaking and mentoring kids who are going through a health crisis. When asked how she managed to soldier on through her challenging journey for such a long time, Jennifer has a ready response.

“You have two choices. You either fight, or lie down and die,” she says. “I’m still here for a reason.”


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