Travis Morris had waited a lifetime to be a farmer. After nearly two decades of working for a university, all of the pieces were in place for Travis to begin a new career in farming. "Farming was Travis' baby," his wife, Danielle Morris, says. "It was his world."
And for a year and a half after leaving his university job, all of Travis' lifelong farming dreams were finally coming true — until his body started failing him, seemingly overnight. "It was instant," Danielle says. "All of a sudden, he couldn't feel his legs, and then he started falling out of his truck and other things like that. It was scary."
Also scary was the fact that no one in their home state of Indiana could figure out what was causing Travis' health to deteriorate. "We stayed in our local hospital for 36 straight days," Danielle says. "Test after test, doctor after doctor, no one knew what was wrong with him."
Finally, more than a month later, a neurologist came into to Travis' hospital room and offered an alternative. "I'll never forget that day. It was May 11, 2018," Danielle says. "The neurologist walked in, looked at my husband and said: 'There's this very rare disease called POEMS syndrome. I don't know anything about it myself, but I have a friend at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester who may know more than me. I'd like to send you there.'"
Being from out of state and having had no previous appointments at Mayo Clinic, Danielle says she and Travis expected to wait a while before he could be seen by doctors at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. But that's not what happened.
"It wasn't months. It wasn't weeks. It wasn't even days before we got in. It was that following Monday," she says. "Travis had his first appointment at Mayo just three days later, on May 14, 2018."
And 10 days after that, following a battery of tests and examinations, Travis and Danielle had answers. They learned Travis not only has POEMS syndrome, he also had multiple myeloma. Though relieved to have a clear diagnosis, it did little to diminish the increased fear Danielle and Travis felt.
"When you hear myeloma, you also hear that it's incurable. So when he first got diagnosed, all I could think about was what happens in 10 years when my son graduates high school? Who's going to be sitting next to me celebrating that?'" Danielle says. "Those are the kinds of thoughts you have."
They're also the kinds of concerns that Danielle says one particular member of Travis' care team at Mayo Clinic went out of her way to ease. "We met (clinical research coordinator) Andrea Hanks early on, and she took us under her wing and said, 'If there's anything you need just let me know,'" Danielle says. "I can't tell you how wonderful it is to know that, even if Andrea doesn't know something, she won't stop until she finds out whatever it is that she needs to find out for us."
"His treatment's been wonderful and such a success. … When I look at (Travis) now, he's eating again. He's regained 40 pounds. He's doing physical therapy. And he just looks great."Danielle Morris
Also key to helping them navigate Travis' diagnosis has been his lead physician, Mayo Clinic hematologist Francis Buadi, M.D. "After our diagnosis, he sent us to a bunch of different departments within Mayo because he wanted to make sure there was nothing else going on," Danielle says. "Travis then had more tests done before we were sent back home the following week, so that he could begin his chemotherapy treatments at home."
The couple kept in touch with Dr. Buadi during Travis' chemotherapy in Indiana. "We followed up with him after every cycle," Danielle says. "We did that for three months and then came back to Rochester for another six weeks in October, so that Travis could undergo a stem cell transplant."
After the transplant, the couple returned home in early December. They now travel to Rochester every three months for Travis to continue his treatment.
While they know it's unlikely Travis will ever be fully cured of either disease, Danielle says the progress and improvement she's seen in her husband since he first began treatment at Mayo Clinic have been extraordinary.
"His treatment's been wonderful and such a success," she says. "He was in a wheelchair when we first came to Mayo. Now he's walking with a cane and a walker, and we're super excited about that. He went from not being able to feel his legs, to being in a wheelchair, to losing 80 pounds — just all of these terrible things happening right in a row. When I look at him now, he's eating again. He's regained 40 pounds. He's doing physical therapy. And he just looks great."
The experience has changed the couple's outlook as they consider their future. "Now I know exactly who's going to be sitting next to me at my son's high school graduation because it's going to be him," Danielle says.
For that, Travis and Danielle give credit to his Mayo Clinic care team. "His entire patient experience at Mayo has been wonderful," Danielle says. "Everyone involved in his care works so well together. There's never a communication breakdown of any kind. Living out of a state, that's huge for us."
"Knowing that we have made a difference in a patient's life brings tremendous joy to our staff and encourages all of us to continue finding new ways to help patients."Gianrico Farrugia, M.D.
Travis and Danielle often use Mayo Clinic's Patient Online Services to review test results and lab reports. "But we have no idea what any of it means on the surface," Danielle says. "Every time he's had a new lab or test, Dr. Buadi or his nurse has called us to explain exactly what it means — every single time. You don't get that kind of care at other hospitals. You just don't."
That's why Danielle says she felt compelled to reach out to Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., Mayo Clinic's president and CEO, so she could share Travis' story directly with him.
"I wanted him to know what kind of people are working for Mayo Clinic and what kind of impact they're having in people's lives," Danielle says. "Before we came to Rochester, he laid in a hospital bed in Indiana for 36 days being told there was nothing that could done. But when we came to Mayo, we realized there was help, and there was hope. We realized there was life again, and that's what we've been given."
For Dr. Farrugia, that's what Mayo Clinic is all about. "I was moved that Danielle took the time to write to me about her family's experience at Mayo Clinic," he says. "Our mission is to give hope to our patients, especially those who face difficult or complex diagnoses. Knowing that we have made a difference in a patient's life brings tremendous joy to our staff and encourages all of us to continue finding new ways to help patients."