Sharing Mayo Clinic

Stories from patients, family, friends and Mayo Clinic staff

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1 day ago · Finding Breast Cancer Sooner

Jan Jenswold wasn't concerned when she went in for her annual mammogram. Then the test picked up something suspicious, and a follow-up found that Jan had breast cancer. But the early diagnosis brought with it an optimistic prognosis. Today, with her cancer in the past, Jan now encourages others to make mammograms a priority.

Jan Jenswold wasn’t concerned when she went in for her annual mammogram. Then the test picked up something suspicious, and a follow-up found that Jan had breast cancer. But the early diagnosis brought with it an optimistic prognosis. Today, with her cancer in the past, Jan now encourages others to make mammograms a priority.


“I was just going in for a routine mammogram,” says Jan Jenswold of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “I don’t usually think about it. I don’t have a family history of breast cancer, so I wasn’t worried.”

But this time, when Jan went for her mammogram at the HERS Breast Center at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, the scan showed something that concerned her care team. Jen had a follow-up 3D mammogram, also known as digital breast tomosynthesis. The test allows breast tissue to be viewed in individual segments, showing greater detail than a traditional mammogram.

“I’m really glad I got the 3D mammogram,” Jan says. “That’s what picked up on the tumors, because they were actually really small.”

Facing a diagnosis

A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis. Jan had breast cancer. While the news took her by surprise, she says she was not as frightened as she thought she would be. Jan, who works as a supervisor in Outpatient Behavioral Health at Mayo Clinic Health System, had confidence in her care team.

“Everybody I talked to on the staff was so encouraging,” Jan says. “I read everything I could. I looked at wigs and prosthetics in case I needed to have surgery or chemo. I wanted to be prepared.”


“It is really important for women to come in and get screened, even if there is no history of breast cancer in their family.”

Megan Meyers, M.D.

Because Jan’s cancer was detected early, she had an encouraging prognosis. Her cancer was removed with a lumpectomy. Further testing revealed that Jan would not need to undergo chemotherapy, but she did have radiation therapy for four weeks. Fortunately, Jan says the treatment went smoothly for her, and she experienced no side effects. Jan also has been able to reduce her chance of recurrence by taking hormone-blocking medication.

The fact that Jan had no family history of breast cancer is not unusual, says Megan Meyers, M.D., a radiologist at Mayo Clinic Health System.

“One in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and most breast cancers are actually not hereditary,” says Dr. Meyers. “It is really important for women to come in and get screened, even if there is no history of breast cancer in their family.”

Feeling fortunate

Two years later, Jan’s grateful that she’s been able to move past her cancer experience. “I really feel lucky,” Jan says. “I’m doing great. It feels like it was a long time ago. Sometimes I forget it happened at all.”

Although Jan knows firsthand that a cancer diagnosis can be scary, she says situations like hers show there is good reason to have hope for a positive outcome.

“It’s not the same news it would have been 30 years ago,” she says. “We’ve come so far. There are so many targeted treatments.”


“Get in there, and get it done. You don’t want to be the person who finds out it’s too late for effective treatment.” 

Jan Jenswold

Jan also is thankful that she’s always taken the time to go in for her annual mammograms, even when it would have been easy to let it slide for a year or two. She hopes her example will inspire others to do the same.

“Get in there, and get it done,” Jan says. “You don’t want to be the person who finds out it’s too late for effective treatment.”

Note: A version of this story was published previously in Hometown Health.


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3 days ago · Ditching Vein Pain

For years, leg discomfort from varicose veins made it tough for Cindy Stone to stay active. But minimally invasive treatment at Mayo Clinic solved the problem and put Cindy back on her feet.

For years, leg discomfort from varicose veins made it tough for Cindy Stone to stay active. But minimally invasive treatment at Mayo Clinic solved the problem and put Cindy back on her feet.


Cindy Stone loved to be active — whether it was going for a walk, working in her garden or spending time with her grandchildren. But a dull ache in her right leg due to varicose veins began to cramp her style.

“It wasn’t anything terribly bothersome, but you knew it was there, especially if I was doing some gardening or doing a lot of walking outside,” says Cindy, a 70-year-old Chetek, Wisconsin, resident. “I’d kind of sit and rub it, and I’d feel a little bit better. But it was getting progressively worse the older I got.”

Going for a daily walk went from something Cindy welcomed to something she shied away from, knowing she’d pay the price with a throbbing leg later.

Then the varicose veins began to bulge on her leg, “and they look so ugly — like a pencil sticking out of there,” says Cindy, remembering how she didn’t want to wear shorts or skirts because she was self-conscious about the veins.

Seeking relief

After coping with the discomfort for about seven years, Cindy decided enough was enough. She brought up the issue during her annual exam with Rebecca Sarauer, a physician assistant at Mayo Clinic Health System — Northland in Chetek. She advised Cindy that some varicose vein sufferers can get by with wearing compression stockings. While doing so doesn’t cure the problem, it can help ease the pain. She also recommended Cindy schedule an evaluation with Timothy Berkseth, M.D., a surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System — Northland in Barron, Wisconsin, who has expertise in minimally invasive varicose vein treatments.

Cindy had her reservations, but she heeded the advice.

“For most people, especially as you get a little older, you’re not real anxious to go see a surgeon,” she says. “You just kind of put it off, and you think, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to go through all of that.’ But I have to tell you, this doctor had such a bedside manner. It was just phenomenal. He explained everything, and I just had absolutely no questions left unanswered about the whole process.”


“We have a lot of good minimally invasive options now for the treatment of chronic vein disease.”

Timothy Berkseth, M.D. 

Dr. Berkseth explained to Cindy that she had chronic vein disease. The achy, heavy feeling in her leg was occurring because blood wasn’t flowing upward in the vein properly.

“The veins in our legs have one-way valves in them that are supposed to prevent blood from going back down the leg,” Dr. Berkseth says. “Over time, the little valves can get leaky from chronic vein disease. With that, instead of flowing up the leg, your blood starts to flow back through these leaky valves. You get extra blood volume in those veins, and you see the bulges — the varicose veins — and then have pain, achiness, heaviness and swelling.”

In April, Dr. Berkseth performed two minimally invasive outpatient procedures on Cindy’s right leg. The first procedure is known as endovenous radiofrequency ablation. Dr. Berkseth threaded a long catheter through the greater saphenous vein, a vein near the surface of Cindy’s leg that was affected by chronic vein disease. He then delivered radiofrequency energy to the end of the catheter and treated the vein one segment at a time — heating the inside of the vein to 248 degrees F — causing permanent injury to the vein’s inner lining.

“Although we’re not physically removing the vein like we used to do with vein stripping, the minimally invasive procedure renders the vein completely useless because it scars down such that blood can no longer flow through it,” Dr. Berkseth says. “Basically, you don’t have blood flowing through the bad veins, and it then gets redirected into the deep veins that are functioning well.”

The second procedure — stab avulsion phlebectomy — involved treating other visible varicose veins that were likely side branches off Cindy’s diseased vein.

“We make a tiny incision over each varicose vein and physically remove short segments of these veins that look abnormal,” Dr. Berkseth says. Just like the first procedure, blood is rerouted to healthy veins so circulation is not affected.

Loving the results

Cindy marvels at how much better she feels today, and she wonders why she waited so long to be evaluated.

“I’m so glad I did this, and, really, I would encourage anyone — even if you’ve just started with some of this dull aching — not to wait,” Cindy says. “It’s just so nice to have that gone and taken care of.”

Dr. Berkseth says that’s a common response once the condition has been treated.


“I’m so glad I did this, and, really, I would encourage anyone — even if you’ve just started with some of this dull aching — not to wait.”

Cindy Stone

“We have a lot of good options now for the treatment of chronic vein disease with these minimally invasive procedures,” he says. “Most patients do well and are happy with the results. The complication rate of surgery is low, so it has a good risk-benefit reward.”

Cindy says she can’t praise Dr. Berkseth enough for a job well-done.

“He and his staff are just phenomenal,” she says. “For them, I’m sure it’s routine. Surgery and taking care of these things for people is their job. But in their hands, I just felt like a part of the whole thing and felt so comfortable.”

Note: A version of this story was published previously in Hometown Health.


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6 days ago · Learning and Thriving in an Environment That Values Diversity

Tomi Ifelayo traveled a winding path to get to medical school at Mayo Clinic. But now that she's arrived, Tomi is relishing the opportunities for growth and success that Mayo offers her.

Tomi Ifelayo traveled a winding path to get to medical school at Mayo Clinic. But now that she’s arrived, Tomi is relishing the opportunities for growth and success that Mayo offers her.


Editor’s note: Oluwatomilona “Tomi” Ifelayo was walking the halls of Mayo Clinic in May and was taken aback when she saw a group of people speaking in African languages. They were trainers for Mayo Clinic’s recent conversion to Epic — a single, integrated electronic health record and billing system. A student in Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Tomi is from Nigeria. She likens the experience of seeing and hearing so many people who looked and sounded like her to “when Mayo became Wakanda.” Here she shares her story and how she came to Mayo Clinic. 

By Oluwatomilona “Tomi” Ifelayo

This past spring, Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus converted its electronic medical record to Epic. I had seen news headlines about it. I had heard chatter about it. But I didn’t remember that Epic had gone live on May 5 until I had to struggle through the throng of green vests in the lobby of the Guggenheim Building on May 7. I chuckled as I thanked God I lived only a walk away from campus.

But something else gave me pause on my way to class.

What I heard in that lobby was accents. And languages. And not of the standard Midwestern variety.

In fact, I noticed that under the green vests were shades of skin that were not far off from mine. Honestly, it took me quite a bit to process the fact that about 40 people of African descent were crowded together in one lobby. Of one building. In Rochester, Minnesota. I remember stealing glances at everyone, just to make sure it was true.

The whole month of May remained as mystical. I would walk around a corner and hear someone speaking my language on the phone. I would walk the floors of the Gonda Building and see Epic superusers training Mayo Clinic staff, speaking with authority, and being listened to, despite their thick accents. I could see black excellence — exactly how I’d imagined it to be. If Wakanda — or Wakovia, as one of my professors called it — were a real place, it was Mayo in May. [Wakanda is a fictional country in the film “Black Panther,” created by Marvel comics.]

Though Mayo Clinic isn’t always Wakanda, I better understood the importance of being in a place where diversity is constantly promoted and pursued. Though some may thrive anywhere, many require a supportive environment for growth and success.

I do miss Mayo’s May Wakanda. But I do cherish the one that still remains. I trust I can learn here, because I can thrive here.

I’m not from here. I’m from Nigeria by way of Houston, Texas. So, how did I end up in Canada? (Note: Anything north of Texas is that cold to me.)

My name, Oluwatomilona, in the Yoruba language means “God shows me the way.” That is the only explanation for how I ended up here. If you told my parents that their child would end up at a top medical school when we were in Nigeria, they would have laughed in your face.


“[My dad] told me that what would gain me respect in the world was not my skin color, but the brain that God gave me.”

Tomi Ifelayo

When I came to this country, I was full of excitement. One can only imagine how many times I asked my mum, “Are we there yet?” on a 20-something-hour plane ride. But everyone was excited. We were going to America.

I think it’s safe to say the excitement stopped at the airport. It was not exciting. It was hard. I watched both of my parents, who had master’s degrees in Nigeria, struggle to find menial jobs just to provide for us. I watched my parents go back to school to get degrees that would let them move forward. I watched other students on the first day of school talk about how they went to Disneyland and Europe for the summer, silently thinking about how my brother and I thought we were having a vacation in the library while my mum studied for her night classes.

Something you get to know about Nigerians is that they are very proud of who they are. I say “they” because as a child, I was not proud of who I was. To my classmates, I was the “African-booty-scratcher,” the “charcoal pile,” the “ugly African,” but never a proud Nigerian.

I couldn’t eat lunch in cafeterias through most of college, even though the bullying stopped in middle school.

I remember one day when my parents realized that I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I asked them why God made me black in the first place.

Their response: “If I am black and your mother is black, did you expect to be yellow?” This was my first introduction to the world of genetics.

I remember laughing through tears when I heard my dad say that. I still do sometimes. He told me that what would gain me respect in the world was not my skin color, but the brain that God gave me. That if I could show that I knew more about something than anyone, they would have no choice but to respect me. That was the day that my life turned around. I hate to think of where I would be (if on Earth at all) without the parents God gave me.

That “prove them wrong” mentality and the help of God was what got me through high school and college successfully. I can’t lie. It felt pretty good when the same people who harassed me in middle school were asking me to tutor them in high school.


“I am grateful for where I am, the opportunities I have, and the support I’ve received. It’s been nothing short of amazing.”

Tomi Ifelayo

Then came college. I came into Baylor University as a pre-med student, but dropped it because, among other things, I felt I was only doing it because it was the African thing to do. You either become a doctor, lawyer or engineer when you go to college. I switched over to pharmacy because I did want to be in health care — just not medicine. I took my PCAT [Pharmacy College Admission Test] the fall of my second year and was ready to apply in the spring.

Then God told me, “No.”

Many people don’t believe this part of my story, but it’s OK. It’s what happened, and it would be wrong of me to take credit for divine intervention.

I was sitting on my bed surfing the internet during Christmas break of second year, when God told me this was not right for me. I would neither be happy nor fulfilled even if I succeeded. Considering I was set to graduate in third year, this was a pretty crappy time for God to speak. A change at this point meant I had five months to apply for a premedical committee recommendation, declare as a pre-med in college, study for and take the MCAT [Medical College Admission Test], shadow medical doctors, and volunteer before the application cycle began in June.

It couldn’t have been God. If it were, what kind of God was that?

But it plagued me until I finally decided to switch over at the beginning of the new semester. I reiterate the divine intervention involved because I still cannot begin to describe what a hellish and stressful semester that was for me. Neither can I convey to you the numerous miracles that happened for me to get through it successfully. But I did.

And I thank God I did because I ended up here at Mayo Clinic. I am grateful for where I am, the opportunities I have, and the support I’ve received. It’s been nothing short of amazing.

All my life God has shown me the way. I know he showed me the way here.


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Wed, Nov 7 7:00am · Seeing Purpose in Sharing

If not for the help and healing Sandra Blue received at Mayo Clinic 10 years ago, she may be blind today. Filled with gratitude, Sandra continues to be moved to share her journey of how her sight was saved from a severe complication of rheumatoid arthritis.

If not for the help and healing Sandra Blue received at Mayo Clinic 10 years ago, she may be blind today. Filled with gratitude, Sandra continues to be moved to share her journey of how her sight was saved from a severe complication of rheumatoid arthritis.


Ten years ago, Sandra Blue came within weeks of losing her vision. The sudden and severe onset of the condition affecting her eyes baffled a number of ophthalmologists. It was only after heeding a friend’s suggestion to reach out to Mayo Clinic that Sandra got answers about the condition that was destroying her eyes and was able to halt its progression.

At Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, Sandra learned that the source of her eye problems wasn’t actually in her eyes. It was in her immune system. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues. Her vision issues were caused by a disorder called scleritis — a complication that arose as a result of the rheumatoid arthritis.

Since then, thanks to careful monitoring and routine maintenance treatments, what started off feeling like a bad dream has empowered Sandra to form connections and offer support to others like her, who are grappling with vision loss due to scleritis.

“When you lose your sight, it’s like nothing else matters. That’s your window to life,” says Sandra, who enjoys sharing her story to help raise awareness about the condition. “There are patients going through this all over the world. People want to know the latest. They want the closeness.”

Unusual journey to understanding

When Sandra first started having eye problems, her symptoms began as streaks of red in the sclera — the white outer tissues of her eyes. Literally overnight, pain set in. Eventually, she learned that the pain was due to out-of-control white blood cells attacking her eyes.

Over the next six months, the pain and redness in Sandra eye’s increased as she sought medical advice from eight different ophthalmologists. The pain was intense and relentless.

Sandra was prescribed numerous antibiotic drops and steroid drops to quell the irritation, swelling, redness and pain in her eyes. In addition to eye drops, Sandra was given large doses of oral corticosteroids. Nothing helped. Her eyes continued to redden until all of the white portions had become the color of ketchup. Sandra’s ophthalmologist advised her that holes were forming in her eyes and waking up blind was a real possibility for her.

That’s when she decided to go to Mayo Clinic. At her appointment, Sandra’s medical team, which included an ophthalmologist, ordered a blood test. When the test results came back, Andy Abril, M.D., from the Division of Rheumatology, joined Sandra’s care team.

“Interestingly, Sandy had elevated rheumatoid arthritis markers in her blood, even though she had absolutely no joint problems,” Dr. Abril says. “Her presentation was atypical in that it is quite unusual to have rheumatoid arthritis just affecting the eyes without any other manifestation. That is what delayed the treatment.”


“Her sclera was becoming really thin, and she could have lost her eyesight if we didn’t control it.”

Andy Abril, M.D.

Dr. Abril prescribed Sandra oral medications known to help manage rheumatoid arthritis, but it did little to improve her debilitating symptoms.

“Her sclera was becoming really thin, and she could have lost her eyesight if we didn’t control it,” Dr. Abril says. “It was hard for me to tell if it was a matter of weeks or months, but we were really at the point where we were concerned.”

Since the oral treatments weren’t working, Dr. Abril opted for a more aggressive therapy. At the time, Rituxan was a new biologic drug proving to be effective against the disease. Dr. Abril prescribed Sandra the infusion therapy.

Almost immediately Sandra’s symptoms began improving. Administered as an outpatient therapy, the medication, which Sandra continues to receive about every 12 months, has enabled her to live a normal life.

“It’s amazing,” says Sandra. “If you saw me, you’d say, ‘She is God’s miracle.'”

Support received and given

Each year, Sandra journeys to Mayo Clinic for her infusion therapy, which she receives over a five- to six-hour period. Through the years, she and Dr. Abril have tweaked the timing to establish the ideal interval between doses.

“It’s an ongoing process, and there’s still so much I have to be careful of,” Sandra says. “If I don’t get those treatments in a timely manner, the consequences are threatening. It’s almost like a race, and I have to stay in front of it.”

In addition to the scleritis in her eyes, a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis now causes inflammation in Sandra’s hand and wrists. But when those flare-ups occur, a dose of the Rituxan quickly eliminates her symptoms. “The Rituxan is magical for me in many ways,” she says.

There are side effects to the medication, such as an increased risk for infection. But as long as Sandra’s condition responds to the treatment, she can remain on it indefinitely, Dr. Abril says.


“There’s no better substitute for rolling up your sleeves and helping someone overcome an experience that you were able to master, especially if you are at risk for losing your sight.”

Sandra Blue

If not for the support of her medical team and her family — especially her husband, who helped her though the painful early days of the disease, along with her grandmother and mother, who never stopped praying for her — life would be vastly different, Sandra says.

“Ultimately, God placed me in the palm of his hand and delivered me from what would have been a life-changing experience,” Sandra says. “Dr. Abril, in his wisdom, tested me on various medications. My sclera was thinning, and at the last second, he came up with a drug that brought it to an immediate halt.”

Sandra says she hopes to continue serving as a support for individuals who can benefit from her experience. Through the years, she’s befriended and bonded with fellow patients, including a gentleman in Savannah, Georgia, who was blinded by the disease, and a young woman in Chicago who struggles with chronic eye inflammation. With the empathy and wisdom, Sandra serves as a support and sounding board to others affected by rheumatoid arthritis.

“There’s no better substitute for rolling up your sleeves and helping someone overcome an experience that you were able to master, especially if you are at risk for losing your sight,” Sandra says.


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Mon, Nov 5 11:04am · Back to Pursuing Her Passions After Spine Surgery

Kathie Hanson went from being an active outdoor enthusiast to being unable to walk without assistance. But the care she received at Mayo Clinic has again allowed her to take part in the many activities that fill her life with joy.

Kathie Hanson went from being an active outdoor enthusiast to being unable to walk without assistance. But the care she received at Mayo Clinic has again allowed her to take part in the many activities that fill her life with joy.


Swimming has been a huge part of Kathie Hanson’s life. She was a lifeguard and water safety instructor in her 20s, and she spent 30 years at the Y in Duluth, Minnesota, as a swim teacher for adults who were afraid of the water.

“It’s the most marvelous experience,” Kathie says. “There’s something about being in the water that’s so restorative.”

For a time, however, Kathie thought her days in the water might be over, along with her enjoyment of many other active pursuits.

“I was experiencing a lot of pain down my legs,” says the 77-year-old former physical therapist who was used to doing 3-mile hikes several times a week. “I couldn’t walk without assistance or extreme pain. I couldn’t do anything I loved to do outdoors. I didn’t want to take opioids, so I tried everything else. But it was not a good life.”

At that point, she decided to call Mayo Clinic. “I trusted Mayo to have the most effective and recent treatment, and tell me whether my condition could be helped,” Kathie says.

Seeking better quality of life

In June 2017, during her first consult with Michelle Clarke, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, Kathie had an electromyogram on her legs. The nerve conduction study was done to see if the source of her pain was in her spine. The test revealed Kathie’s leg pain was coming from compression of one of the nerve roots in her spine from degenerative scoliosis.

Fortunately, the compression could be treated without surgery, and a guided spinal injection of steroids successfully eliminated Kathie’s pain. Unfortunately, two months later, another problem surfaced. Kathie began experiencing weakness in her hands, along with balance problems.

“I had to watch my feet when I would walk,” Kathie says. “I was terrified of walking.”


“I trusted Mayo to have the most effective and recent treatment, and tell me whether my condition could be helped.”

Kathie Hanson

In December 2017, Kathie had a consult with another Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon, Benjamin Elder, M.D., Ph.D. After reviewing the results of an MRI of the cervical part of the spine in Kathie’s neck, Dr. Elder diagnosed severe cervical myelopathy from spinal cord compression.

“Degeneration of the joints and discs in her neck was causing the spinal cord compression and her difficulty with walking,” Dr. Elder says. “Many patients who have progressive weakness in their hands and balance issues don’t realize that it can be caused by problems in their neck. Even though they often do not experience any pain, it’s important to see a neurologist or neurosurgeon for evaluation.”

Due to the severity of the compression in Kathie’s spine, the only treatment option was surgery.

Dr. Elder recommended a laminectomy and spinal fusion due to the significant misalignment of the spine in her neck. He scheduled the surgery for Jan. 6.

Returning to the outdoors

Kathie’s surgery took four hours, and afterward, she spent three days in the hospital. It was quickly apparent that the procedure had been a success.

“The most remarkable thing is almost immediately after the surgery, I knew where my feet were and didn’t have to look at them,” Kathie says. “I could walk short distances just fine.”

Today, Kathie still uses trekking poles for longer walks and hikes to help her maintain solid footing. But she’s happy to be back on the trails and back outdoors. She recently completed a moderately difficult 2½-mile hike in the woods with inclines. And in March, Kathie spent a month in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, enjoying the water and hiking — two activities that, just a year earlier, she didn’t think she’d ever be able to do again.

“Before the surgery, I went through a tough time emotionally trying to accept that I would not be able to do something I loved so much,” Kathie says. “To have an extension of the life I want, where I can be active and enjoy the outdoors is amazing.”


“It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to help people get back to doing the activities they’re passionate about.”

Benjamin Elder, M.D., Ph.D.

Kathie says she became quite emotional during her six-month follow-up appointment with Dr. Elder in July.

“I burst into tears, telling him how grateful I am to him for finding the problem and knowing what to do about it,” Kathie says.

“Kathie has truly had an exceptional outcome,” Dr. Elder says. “It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to help people get back to doing the activities they’re passionate about.”

Kathie also has returned to doing Pilates, which she’s practiced for the past 20 years. She’s back to kayaking, too. She’s even happy to be able to do the simple everyday tasks that many people take for granted.

“We have a beautiful perennial garden that I can now spend a couple of hours taking care of without needing to rest my back,” Kathie says. “I’m most grateful that I’m not living with chronic pain. This is like a miracle and the greatest gift I received from Mayo Clinic.”


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Fri, Nov 2 3:02pm · An Active Life Restored, Thanks to Regenerative Medicine

For years, Rick Amatuzio lived with severe back pain that kept him from the active life he'd always savored. But advanced diagnostic tests and regenerative medicine therapy at Mayo Clinic ultimately led to a complete recovery. Now Rick once again can play sports and enjoy the outdoors free from pain.

For years, Rick Amatuzio lived with severe back pain that kept him from the active life he’d always savored. But advanced diagnostic tests and regenerative medicine therapy at Mayo Clinic ultimately led to a complete recovery. Now Rick once again can play sports and enjoy the outdoors free from pain.


A typical weekend for Rick Amatuzio involves playing two rounds of golf, riding his motorcycle and mountain biking. But less than two years ago, the active motocross champion couldn’t get out of bed or stand up straight. Debilitating back pain kept him from doing many of the activities he’d once enjoyed.

“I can recall crawling to the bathtub many mornings on my hands and knees in an attempt to loosen my body for the upcoming day,” Rick says. “You feel helpless, emptiness, and like there’s nowhere to turn for help to improve the situation.”

Rick finally found the help he needed when he sought care at Mayo Clinic in 2017. Wenchun Qu, M.D., Ph.D., a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation and pain medicine, offered Rick a treatment that involved injecting stem cells into his spine. It worked. Now Rick’s pain is gone.

“Dr. Qu is one of the best doctors I’ve ever seen,” Rick says. “He didn’t make promises, yet he gave me a lot of hope.”

Progressive pain

Rick can trace his back issues to 10 years ago, when the Duluth, Minnesota, resident had spinal fusion surgery to correct a spine condition known as spondylosis. Two years after that surgery, Rick began noticing a dull ache in his lower back that got progressively worse each year until he had a pain level of 7 out of 10 for most of the day.

“I was getting epidural steroid shots, which would help for a month or two, and then the problem would return,” Rick says. “I was taking six or eight Tylenol a day.”

When the pain kept him from getting more than an hour of sleep at night, Rick’s local neurosurgeon, who had performed the spinal fusion, recommended he go to Mayo Clinic to pursue regenerative medicine therapy.

During his first consult with Dr. Qu in May 2017, Rick was diagnosed with a spine disorder known as adjacent segment disease. The disease had developed as a result of his spinal fusion.


“I was getting epidural steroid shots, which would help for a month or two, and then the problem would return. I was taking six or eight Tylenol a day.”

Rick Amatuzio

“Adjacent segment disease is when you have a fusion of two vertebrae, and the next level of vertebrae have to move more to compensate, which causes those discs to wear out,” Dr. Qu says. “Imaging studies showed he had quite active disease in the discs below the fused discs.”

The next step was to do a test called a provocative discography. It could determine whether the worn discs were causing Rick’s pain. The test involved injecting contrast dye in the discs to put pressure on them and reproduce the pain he’d been feeling. Test results confirmed the pain was coming from Rick’s degenerated discs.

To treat Rick’s condition, Dr. Qu recommended an approach that used regenerative medicine. Unlike traditional treatment for adjacent segment disease that destroy the discs by burning or fusing them, Dr. Qu would treat the disc degeneration with therapy to reduce the inflammation that was responsible for Rick’s pain.

“Stem cells have growth factors which activate the dormant cells indigenous to the disc and restore the health of the disc by reducing inflammation,” Dr. Qu says. “If you reduce inflammation, you reduce pain.”

Outstanding outcome

On Sept. 28, 2017, Rick returned to Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus to have a combination of platelet-rich plasma and bone marrow aspirate concentrate injected into his spine. The benefit from the treatment was not immediate. In fact, Rick’s pain become worse before he saw significant improvement — an outcome that was not unprecedented, according to Dr. Qu.

“It takes about two months, or even longer, to see the treatment effect, and I have seen low-level inflammatory responses in between,” he says.

But throughout that period, Rick felt the support of his Mayo Clinic care team. “Dr. Qu and his team stood with me and helped me through the process,” he says. “They would call or email frequently to see how I was doing.”


“I am extremely grateful for Dr. Qu and Mayo Clinic. They have given me my life back.”

Rick Amatuzio

By the time he celebrated his 44th birthday in March, Rick was feeling much better. Since then, he’s lost 30 pounds and can now carry his golf bag for 36 holes without pain. He says it’s the best he’s felt in 12 years.

“I wake up in the morning, and I can stand up straight easily. The burning pain in my back and the back of my legs is gone. I can sleep through the night. I can go out with my friends without discomfort. I work out every morning. I can go mountain biking,” Rick says. “I am extremely grateful for Dr. Qu and Mayo Clinic. They have given me my life back. Every day is a blessing that I can do the activities I enjoy doing.”


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Wed, Oct 31 7:00am · The Match of a Lifetime

When Ed Waters needed a kidney transplant, his wife, Darlene, stepped up to be his donor. The couple was delighted to find that, just as in the rest of their married life, they were perfectly compatible.

When Ed Waters needed a kidney transplant, his wife, Darlene, stepped up to be his donor. The couple was delighted to find that, just as in the rest of their married life, they were perfectly compatible.


When Ed and Darlene Waters of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, got married 43 years ago, it seemed they were an excellent match. It was only recently, though, that the couple learned just how true that really was.

A few years ago, Ed began showing signs of kidney disease. Mark Deyo-Svendsen, M.D., his Family Medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System — Red Cedar in Menomonie, Wisconsin, noted high levels of creatinine in Ed’s lab results and said it was something to keep an eye on. But then, after Ed was treated for an infected spider bite while on vacation, his condition worsened. He began to feel tired and run down.

Ed was referred to Suhail Shuja, M.D., a nephrologist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. As Ed’s kidney function deteriorated, Dr. Shuja put Ed on daily dialysis, which continued for about a year.

Ed says following the dietary restrictions his condition required was a challenge. But Dr. Shuja was firm in relaying the potential complications of straying from the plan. High phosphorous levels can lead to bone disease or cardiovascular complications. Fluid in the lungs can cause respiratory failure. High potassium levels can stop the heart.

“When you have kidney failure and are on dialysis, it’s a lifestyle change,” Dr. Shuja says. “Ed had home dialysis every night, and a lot of dietary and fluid restrictions. He was struggling with it.”

At that point, Dr. Shuja says, it was time for something else. He recommended looking for a living donor, so Ed could move forward with a kidney transplant.

Perfect pair

Ed needed to find a healthy donor who matched his blood and tissue type. Darlene worried that she would not qualify. But after two other family members were unable to donate, she was determined to help. If she didn’t match Ed, Darlene says she would have been willing to donate her kidney to someone else. But her blood group was compatible with Ed’s, which allowed her to donate to him.

“When I got the call at work, I was so happy. I started crying,” Darlene says. “I was just bawling. Everyone thought something was wrong.”

With this new development in their relationship, the couple says it now seems it was fate that brought them to each other so many years ago. “Darlene asked me, ‘Do you think we were meant to be together?’ I said, ‘I guess we were.'” Ed says.

Ed admits he was nervous about the surgery. But he says Patrick Dean, M.D., his transplant surgeon at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, put him at ease.


“Everyone we worked with was so compassionate.”

Ed Waters

“He told me everything that was going to happen and drew me some pictures,” Ed says. “Everyone we worked with was so compassionate.”

In Rochester, Ed and Darlene each had their own care teams in preparation for the transplant.

“The teams that evaluate the recipients and donors are intentionally kept separate to ensure that the providers focus on the best interest of each patient,” Dr. Dean says. “This helps us avoid any conflicts of interest.”

There was a lighthearted moment just before the procedure. Ed knew Darlene was due to be wheeled into surgery 15 minutes ahead of him. When he saw a gurney wheel by, he waved and blew a kiss only to discover it was not Darlene, but another patient.

“I wonder what she was thinking,” Ed says with a laugh.

Better together

Ed’s surgery went smoothly, and he says he’s now feeling “just super” with Darlene’s kidney working well for him. Darlene says she recovered quickly and feels the same as she did before surgery.

“She’s tougher than heck,” Ed says.

From Dr. Shuja’s perspective, getting regular checkups and staying on top of his health concerns were the keys to the positive result Ed is enjoying. He advises others to follow Ed’s example.

“See your primary care provider regularly, take control of your medical problems and take your medications as directed,” Dr. Shuja says. “Those are the keys to good health.”


“They’re a fun couple with an outstanding relationship. … It was a pleasure to help make the transplant happen.”

Patrick Dean, M.D.

Dr. Dean says Ed’s and Darlene’s attitudes throughout the process made them a pleasure to work with.

“They’re a fun couple with an outstanding relationship,” Dr. Dean says. “By donating a kidney to her husband, Mrs. Waters won’t have to watch him suffer on dialysis. It was a pleasure to help make the transplant happen.”

Ed and Darlene have high praise for everyone who played a part in their care in Eau Claire, Glenwood City, Menomonie and Rochester.

“They’re professional and heartwarming at the same time,” Ed says.

“They’re not just good at what they do,” adds Darlene. “They’re good people.”

Note: A version of this story previously was published in Hometown Health.


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Mon, Oct 29 4:20pm · Anyone With Lungs Can Get Lung Cancer

As a Mayo Clinic physician, healthy routines were part of Cathy Madaffari's daily life. Yet in 2015, the former marathoner and mom of three found herself in a surprising role reversal when, instead of being a doctor talking a patient through a tough diagnosis, she was the one facing cancer.

As a Mayo Clinic physician, healthy routines were part of Cathy Madaffari’s daily life. Yet in 2015, the former marathoner and mom of three found herself in a surprising role reversal when, instead of being a doctor talking a patient through a tough diagnosis, she was the one facing cancer.


She was recovering from a cold when the cough started. But Catherine Madaffari, M.D., was the picture of health. As a physician in Community Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, she ate well, never smoked and exercised regularly.

“It was just a dull cough that was lingering,” Cathy says. “Honestly I didn’t really notice it, but my colleagues did.”

At her co-workers’ urging, Cathy had a chest X-ray. “There was a nodule on the X-ray. I knew what it was, and I was shocked,” Cathy says. “Other than this cough, I was a healthy person with no family history. And not being a smoker or having any other risk factors, a diagnosis of adenocarcinoma of the lung was not something I ever thought I’d hear.”

It’s a common misconception that you have to be a smoker to get lung cancer, Cathy says. “Really, anyone with lungs can get lung cancer,” she adds.

Catching it early

According to the American Lung Association, every 2½ minutes someone in the U.S. is told they have lung cancer. An estimated 234,030 new cases of lung cancer are expected to be diagnosed in 2018. It remains the leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women.

“The surprising fact that many people don’t know is that 20 percent of the people, if not more, that develop lung cancer are nonsmokers,” says Cathy. And women are twice as likely as men to get the disease.

Cathy acknowledges she was lucky. “Because of the astuteness of my Mayo Clinic colleagues, I was diagnosed at an early stage and am now a three-year cancer survivor. Most patients with lung cancer go undiagnosed until it’s in stage 3 or 4, and then it may have metastasized,” she says.


“The surprising fact that many people don’t know is that 20 percent of the people, if not more, that develop lung cancer are nonsmokers.”

Catherine Madaffari, M.D.

Mathew Thomas, M.B.B.S., M.D., a Mayo Clinic cardiothoracic surgeon, performed a surgery known as a posterior segmentectomy to remove part of the right upper lobe of Cathy’s lung that contained the tumor. Since her cancer was found early, Cathy didn’t require the chemotherapy or radiation therapy that many people with lung cancer often require.

“Being a physician and then becoming a patient, that was difficult at times,” Cathy says. “Sometimes we assume that since the person is in the medical profession that they know exactly what is happening, what the next step is and what we need to do.”

Cathy applauds her colleagues for “talking to me and treating me as a patient. Everyone was just so reassuring that I knew everything was going to be OK. My biggest concern was my kids.”

At the time of her diagnosis, Cathy’s children were 16, 17 and 21. “It was just the four of us. And I remember thinking, ‘OK, I’ve got to tell my kids and reassure them,'” she says. “That was probably the hardest part because a diagnosis of any kind of cancer affects not just the patient but the whole family.”

Becoming an advocate

Despite her worries, Cathy says her children remained positive. They, along with supportive colleagues, helped her navigate this tough time in her life. “Everyone was absolutely fantastic,” Cathy says. “Very nurturing and reassuring. They made it so much easier.”

One of Cathy’s children nominated her to be a Lung Force Hero — a program of the American Lung Association that aims to focus on women, lung health and their risk for lung cancer.

“I’m fortunate that I’m here. I was diagnosed early. That doesn’t happen often enough,” says Cathy, who now balances her career as a physician with being a cancer advocate.

In March, Cathy traveled to Washington, D.C. with Lung Force Heroes from around the country to testify before Congress about lung cancer’s startling statistics.


“We asked Congress to support increased funding for the National Institutes of Health for better treatment and early detection of lung cancer.”

Catherine Madaffari, M.D.

“We have to educate people to get better at recognizing the symptoms that often go unnoticed or ignored, and to get screened,” she says. “We asked Congress to support increased funding for the National Institutes of Health for better treatment and early detection of lung cancer.”

In addition, Cathy is eager for more research, particularly related to women, as the incidence of lung cancer continues to rise.

“I want to see more studying being done on women, especially those that have no risk factors,” she says. “Is it genetic? Is it environmental?”

While high risk-patients, like current or former smokers, may qualify for a screening CT scan, Cathy hopes that one day there will be a screening test to diagnose lung cancer sooner. In the meantime, she reminds all those who will listen that “anyone is at risk for lung cancer.”

Learn more about Cathy’s story in this video:

 


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