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4 hours ago · Using Expertise and Teamwork to Tackle a Brain Tumor

After being plagued by mysterious symptoms for more than a year, Richard Uihlein was diagnosed with a brain tumor and told nothing could be done about it. Undeterred, he went to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion. There he found a way forward after all.

After being plagued by mysterious symptoms for more than a year, Richard Uihlein was diagnosed with a brain tumor and told nothing could be done about it. Undeterred, he went to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion. There he found a way forward after all. 


For more than a year, Lauralee Uihlein couldn’t shake the feeling that her husband, Richard Uihlein, had a serious health problem.

His symptoms were subtle at first. Richard tired easily and was moody. His appetite increased, and his eating habits changed drastically. For years, he had followed a healthy diet that helped him lose 35 pounds. But he stopped that completely and was snacking on mixed nuts and treats, seemingly nonstop. “I felt like I had to nail down the cupboard,” Lauralee says.

She mentioned her concerns during one of Richard’s visits with his primary care physician near their home in Naples, Florida. The doctor said Richard’s behavior was most likely a normal reaction to stress and aging. “His mother had just passed away. ‘Maybe Richard was depressed,’ the doctor said. And we’re both getting older. I think the doctor felt I expected too much from him,” Lauralee recalls.

By early 2016, Richard’s symptoms were getting worse, and new ones surfaced. Where he would once ride his bike more than 40 miles a day, Richard was now down to 4 or 5 miles. After the short rides, he’d sleep for hours. Lauralee and her son recall Richard yelling at the family dog — in German.

“I haven’t spoken German since I was a young child,” says Richard, who has to rely on Lauralee to recall most of what occurred during 2016 because he doesn’t remember much of it.

Convinced that Richard might have some combination of a neurological and endocrine disorder, Lauralee took him to specialists in both those areas. The visits confirmed her fears. Richard had a craniopharyngioma — a rare type of brain tumor that typically appears in young children or in adults between 50 and 74.

An answer but not a solution

The tumor in Richard’s brain was large for a craniopharyngioma. About the size of a golf ball, it was pressing on his pituitary gland. Learning the diagnosis gave the Uihleins no comfort, though, because the neurosurgeons in their community told the couple that the tumor was inoperable. While craniopharyngomas are not cancerous, if left untreated, Richard’s would continue to grow. Eventually it would affect other areas of his brain, causing seizures, blindness and strokes.

“I didn’t want to strap Lauralee with that,” Richard says. “We both knew we had to get a second opinion.”


“[Dr. Quinones] told me he was familiar with Richard’s condition, and he was confident the team could treat it. He let us know we were in the right place at the right time.”

Lauralee Uihlein

Lauralee shared their thoughts with Richard’s endocrinologist, who had trained at Mayo Clinic. The endocrinologist agreed they should seek a second opinion and told them about Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, M.D. Dr. Quinones, chair of Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus, is renowned for his surgical expertise and his research in pituitary tumors and other types of brain tumors. The couple made an appointment to see him the following week.

A sound decision

Almost immediately, the Uihleins felt confident about their decision to come to Mayo Clinic. One of Richard’s first appointments was for an MRI to gather more information about the size and location of his tumor. While Lauralee was in the waiting room, Dr. Quinones visited her.

“He told me he was familiar with Richard’s condition, and he was confident the team could treat it,” Lauralee says. “He let us know we were in the right place at the right time.”

Experience was one reason for Dr. Quinones’s confidence. He’s performed about 250 procedures on craniopharyngomas and other tumors that arise in the same region of the brain. He used that experience to plan a surgical procedure that was a combination of techniques that he’s learned through the years.

Teamwork was equally important. Dr. Quinones reviewed his plan with a team of surgical colleagues. In the operating room, he is part of a multidisciplinary team that specializes in procedures like Richard’s.

“Everyone on the team — the anesthesiologists, the nurses, monitoring techs and so on — specializes in neurosurgical procedures,” Dr. Quinones says. “That maximizes the chances that you’ll have a better outcome.”

About 15 people were in the operating room for Richard’s surgery, which took place in January 2017 and lasted more than six hours. In addition to its unusual size, the tumor had tendrils that were perilously close to Richard’s optic nerve and carotid artery.

Dr. Quinones and his colleagues had to remove bone from Richard’s face temporarily, and then use microscopic techniques to unravel and remove the tumor and its vines.

Shortly after Richard woke from surgery, Lauralee saw encouraging signs. The skin around his eye was swollen, but he could see. That was as a relief because vision loss was a possibility, given the nature of his surgery.

Later, as the medical staff moved Richard to another location, Lauralee witnessed more evidence of a good outcome. “He was directing the nurses, so I knew he was in good shape,” she says.

Richard returned home after 14 days and began months of physical and occupational therapy, as well as other rehabilitation. Then in March, less than four months after surgery, Richard was back on his bicycle. “It was only a 4-mile ride,” Richard says. “But it was a beautiful day, and I was happy to be alive.”

Another round of care

Though he continued to improve and regain his quality of life, in early 2018, Richard’s recovery hit a bump. In April, during a return visit to Mayo Clinic, Richard learned a cyst was growing near the tumor site. His care team had an answer for that, too.

Proton beam therapy is the best treatment for a cyst like Richard’s, and we have the luxury of working with the radiation oncology experts who run our proton centers in Arizona and Minnesota,” Dr. Quinones says.


“The staff in Arizona was just like the team in Florida. They just bent over backward to make everything as good as possible.”

Richard Uihlein

For six weeks, Richard received proton beam therapy at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus. That experience was a testament to his recovery after the original surgery. Richard went to Arizona by himself and rode his bike to and from the proton beam center for some of his treatments.

“The staff in Arizona was just like the team in Florida,” Richard says. “They just bent over backward to make everything as good as possible. No one wants to have a brain tumor. But given that, my experience at Mayo has been wonderful.”

An inspiring commitment

Richard continues to visit Mayo Clinic every three months for monitoring, and his prognosis is excellent, Dr. Quinones says. Now the Uihleins are looking forward to celebrating their family.

“We have a new grandson, and my daughter is getting married in May, so the next year will be full of blessings,” Richard says. “Beyond that, we’ll take it one step at a time.”

But they can’t help reflecting on the path that led them to Mayo Clinic. “Our story shows you that you have to trust your gut,” Lauralee says. “If you know something is wrong, keep pushing and get a second opinion. If we had come to Mayo and they confirmed what we had heard — that nothing could be done — we would have at least felt like we had done everything we could.”

Richard and Lauralee hope their story will inspire other patients and families, but they are doing more than sharing their experience. They also are supporting brain cancer research at Mayo Clinic. With support from the Uihleins and other benefactors, Dr. Quinones and other Mayo Clinic researchers are studying regenerative medicine, immunotherapy and additional strategies to improve the treatment of brain cancers, which are often aggressive and resistant to many chemotherapies.

“Richard and Lauralee give me so much energy and enthusiasm,” Dr. Quinones says. “They feel blessed to be in the position they are in today, but they are also wondering how they can make things better for other people. They believe that together, we can make the world better, and that inspires me as a physician and researcher.”


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4 days ago · Expert Surgery Puts Hiker Back on Top

When hip dysplasia triggered painful symptoms, Sandra Cook feared her hiking days were over. But an intricate orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic took away the pain, and now Sandra has happily returned to the trails.

When hip dysplasia triggered painful symptoms, Sandra Cook feared her hiking days were over. But an intricate orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic took away the pain, and now Sandra has happily returned to the trails.


When Sandra Cook stood atop the granite monolith Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, not only could she see the beauty of the Yosemite Valley stretching out before her, she also could again envision a future filled with the adventure she loves.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hike the way I had before. Hiking, backpacking, reaching a summit, it means the world to me,” Sandra says. “It was so exhilarating to be at the top of Half Dome. At that moment, I felt like it was all going to be OK.”

An avid hiker who has trekked throughout the southwestern United States, as well as in Argentina, Chile, China, Peru and Thailand, Sandra was sidelined for almost a year due to severe pain caused by hip dysplasia. At 45, she was worried that her only treatment option would be a hip replacement. But then she learned about another possibility. A surgical procedure known as periacetabular osteotomy, or PAO, might be able to correct the problem and eliminate the pain.

David Hartigan, M.D., Sandra’s orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus, worked with Rafael Sierra, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, to coordinate the surgery and help Sandra realize her goal of returning to mountaintops.

“I am grateful to both of them,” she says. “It was a lot longer recovery than I had anticipated, but it was worth it. Now I’m back, and I’m so thankful.”

Uncovering a hidden flaw

A nurse who puts a priority on staying healthy and active, Sandra was concerned when, in 2014, she started to notice pain in her hip when she lifted weights or went running. At first Sandra assumed the pain was a byproduct of overuse, so she eased up on her activities. The discomfort subsided. But as soon as she resumed her workouts, it flared again.


“I decided I’d give up running, but as long as I didn’t have to give up hiking, I’d be OK.”

Sandra Cook

An evaluation and imaging exams revealed the problem went much deeper than wear and tear from exercise. Sandra was diagnosed with hip dysplasia — a condition present at birth in which the hip socket doesn’t fully cover the ball portion of the upper thighbone. Many people don’t find out they have hip dysplasia until it triggers other problems that cause discomfort. The source of Sandra’s pain was damage to the soft cartilage, called the labrum, that rims the hip socket. A labral tear had occurred due to damage caused by her malformed joint.

“I started physical therapy and was told I couldn’t run anymore. But at the time I had gotten into hiking and loved it,” Sandra says. “I decided I’d give up running, but as long as I didn’t have to give up hiking, I’d be OK.”

Setting her sights higher

Physical therapy helped for a while. In 2015, however, the pain returned. Sandra’s doctors recommended surgery to repair the tear. The procedure, along with additional physical therapy, worked. That allowed Sandra to take her hiking to a new level.

“Before that, I’d just hiked locally here around Phoenix,” Sandra says. “Then I got more involved with people who did harder hikes, camping and backpacking. I did a lot of hiking between 2015 and 2017.”

Sandra’s hiking highlights during that time included an eight-day hike in Patagonia, Chile, in 2016 and hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru in spring 2017. While in Peru, Sandra also reached the peak of Rainbow Mountain. At more than 17,000 feet, it was the highest elevation she had achieved. That same year, she took on challenging ascents in Glacier National Park in Montana.

Sandra already had her sights set on Half Dome, too. The hike requires a permit that can only be obtained via lottery. She tried to get a permit twice without success. On her third attempt, she secured one for August 2017. But before she could make the trip, her luck ran out.

“The pain started up again at the beginning of 2017, but I went to Peru and Glacier anyway,” Sandra says. “I prayed to God, ‘Please, just let me make it through Half Dome, and then I’ll do whatever I need to do.’ I got through Glacier. But when I came back, the pain completely knocked me off my feet.”

Facing an uncertain outlook

It was then that Sandra met with Dr. Hartigan. He confirmed that the pain was due to a labral tear. Although Sandra continued physical therapy, it wasn’t enough. The pain persisted. The two discussed the possibility of a hip replacement. They agreed it wasn’t the best approach for her.

“Hip replacements usually only last about 20 years, and then I’d need another one,” Sandra says. “A second one is not as likely to hold for that long or allow for a high level of activity. Dr. Hartigan knew I wanted to be active all my life, so a hip replacement now wasn’t a good choice.”

Dr. Hartigan consulted with Dr. Sierra, one of two surgeons at Mayo Clinic who perform periacetabular osteotomy surgery. That procedure seemed like it could be the best option for Sandra’s situation. But it wasn’t a sure thing, due to her age.

“It’s not common to have this procedure in the 40s,” Dr. Sierra says. “First, it’s rare for people with dysplasia to get to their 40s without some arthritis in the hip, and if they have arthritis, we usually don’t recommend the surgery. Second, it’s a harder recovery for a patient older than 40. So we don’t recommend it for that age group unless they have excellent circumstances. It can work, but you have to choose the patients very carefully.”


“While there still is a risk of requiring some type of hip replacement down the road, we’ve been able to show that PAO decreases the risk of needing hip replacement at 10 and 20 years by about 66 percent.”

Rafael Sierra, M.D.

Another concern was the state of the cartilage in Sandra’s hip joint. If it had sustained too much damage over the years, she wouldn’t be a good candidate for the procedure.

Dr. Hartigan and Dr. Sierra crafted a plan to team up on Sandra’s surgical case. Because there was some question as to whether her cartilage would be good enough for a periacetabular osteotomy, Dr. Hartigan first performed hip arthroscopy to assess the cartilage. Dr. Sierra reviewed images from the procedure and provided input.

“Many patients have the arthroscopy and PAO at the same time,” Dr. Sierra says. “But in her case, because she was traveling from a distance and it wasn’t clear whether she could go forward with the PAO, we decided to tag-team it.”

After the hip arthroscopy, the news was good. The cartilage in Sandra’s hip joint was acceptable for the PAO.

Correcting the problem

A complex surgery, periacetabular osteotomy corrects hip dysplasia by repositioning the hip socket while preserving the natural hip joint. During the procedure, the socket is cut free from the pelvis. It’s then shifted, so the socket is better aligned with the top of the thighbone, allowing for proper rotation. For Sandra, having the surgery meant her hip would be much less vulnerable to injury, and she would be free to continue her active ways.

“This procedure improves the mechanics of the hip and protects it from progressive damage,” Dr. Sierra says. “While there still is a risk of requiring some type of hip replacement down the road, we’ve been able to show that PAO decreases the risk of needing hip replacement at 10 and 20 years by about 66 percent.”

Those numbers heartened Sandra as she considered the surgery, but it was still intimidating.

“When Dr. Hartigan first explained it to me, I thought: ‘Oh no. I’m not having that surgery.’ It seemed too extensive and the recovery too long,” Sandra says. “After the arthroscopy, I was waiting for him to come and tell me whether I had enough cartilage to do the PAO. Part of me wanted him to say I didn’t because I was scared. But really, I knew it would be the best option.”

Despite Sandra’s misgivings, when she found out she was a good candidate for periacetabular osteotomy, she opted to go ahead. In October 2017, she traveled to Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, where Dr. Sierra performed the surgery. All went according to plan. Sandra stayed in the hospital for three nights and then remained in Rochester for one more before flying home to Phoenix.

Envisioning new heights

Recovery, however, did not go as smoothly. In December, after being cleared to return to work, Sandra suffered a setback when her pelvic floor muscles went into continuous spasms, causing extreme pain. After the spasms were brought under control, during a light hike in February, Sandra’s pubic bone fractured. That put her on crutches for three weeks. To her relief, the fracture healed well, without additional complications.

Finally, 11 months after she canceled her first trip to Yosemite due to debilitating pain, Sandra was cleared to resume hiking and backpacking. Pain-free and ready to take on a challenge, her thoughts again turned to Half Dome.


“I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Hartigan and Dr. Sierra for helping me regain a lifestyle that I so love living.”

Sandra Cook

During January, in an effort to keep her spirits up, she had entered the Half Dome lottery and received a permit to climb in July. Over July 6 and 7, Sandra confidently completed the hike, carrying a 30-pound backpack for much of the trip. And she did it all without pain.

“Making it up Half Dome, I felt very empowered,” Sandra says. “It gave me my hope back, my joy back.”

Today Sandra’s looking to new adventures. Her list includes hiking to base camp at Mount Everest and climbing Mount Blanc in France.

“For a while, I thought those might be out of my reach. Now I feel I can take them on and do what I want to do,” she says. “I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Hartigan and Dr. Sierra for helping me regain a lifestyle that I so love living.”


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4 days ago · Toddler's Personalized Care Sparks Enormous Strides

Affected by a rare neuromuscular condition, Katie Emerson was beset by extreme muscle weakness that affected her ability to eat, speak and move. Then her mother learned about a Mayo Clinic physician whose pioneering research into Katie's condition gave the child a chance at normalcy.

Affected by a rare neuromuscular condition, Katie Emerson was beset by extreme muscle weakness that affected her ability to eat, speak and move. Then her mother learned about a Mayo Clinic physician whose pioneering research into Katie’s condition gave the child a chance at normalcy.


These days, 3-year-old Katie Emerson is all smiles. The happy toddler loves pushing her toy shopping cart around her family’s Mobile, Alabama, home, taking walks with her dad, reading books to her younger sister and eating grapes — her favorite snack.

Up until a few months ago, however, Katie had never done any of those things.

A rare, inherited disease called congenital myasthenic syndrome, or CMS, made Katie’s first years of life a daily struggle to survive. The disease is caused by a defect in the way signals are transmitted between nerve and muscle cells. Because it results in extreme muscle weakness, the disorder had limited Katie’s ability to move, speak and eat. Even though she was being treated for her disease, Katie struggled to thrive.

All of that began to change when Katie’s mother, Tara, heard about Andrew Engel, M.D., a neuromuscular specialist in the Department of Neurology at Mayo Clinic whose pioneering research into the genetics and treatment of congenital myasthenic syndrome resulted in new, more targeted medications for the disorder.

In May, Katie was seen by Dr. Engel and his counterpart in Pediatric Neurology, Duygu Selcen, M.D. At her appointment, Katie was prescribed a medication that counters the disease process specific to her mutation. Not long after Katie’s first dose of the drug, Tara noticed something different about her daughter.

“The first time I saw my daughter smile was after she took this drug,” Tara says. “[Dr. Engel] literally gave us her first smile and her first steps and gave her some self-esteem. And hope. She’s not depressed watching all the other kids run around and feel like she can’t do it. She’s like a little bird in a cage that’s been set free.”

Severe symptoms

Almost immediately after Katie was born in May 2015, her pediatricians noticed something was wrong . Katie’s breathing was abnormal, and she struggled to eat. For her first week of life, Katie stayed in the pediatric ICU in her hometown facility where physicians closely monitored her. They found Katie had hypotonia, or decreased muscle tone, but didn’t offer any treatments and sent her home.

For the first month of her life, Katie could only eat about 1 ounce of breast milk per feeding. Tara fed her baby every hour, but Katie didn’t gain weight. Her physicians recommended Katie receive an amino-acid based formula. Tara made the switch. But a month passed, and Katie failed to thrive.


“Everyone was telling me that if I let her get hungry, she’d eat. I was like, no, she’s hungry, but it hurts her to eat.”

Tara Emerson

“She wasn’t gaining weight. Her hair was falling out. She looked like a skeleton. It was awful,” Tara says. “Everyone was telling me that if I let her get hungry, she’d eat. I was like, no, she’s hungry, but it hurts her to eat.”

Katie was eventually hospitalized for a month. She received a nasogastric feeding tube and was tested for common muscular conditions. When testing did not reveal any obvious disease, Katie was discharged with a diagnosis of a milk allergy.

During her hospitalization, it became clear that Katie had trouble swallowing. Not only did this problem make eating difficult, it made swallowing saliva nearly impossible, Tara says. As a result, Katie often choked on her own secretions and required suctioning. Her father, Jeff, devised a manual suction device that didn’t require electricity and could be carried with Katie to and from her appointments. That device, says Tara, quickly and easily cleared the mucus and saliva that got stuck in Katie’s nose, mouth and throat.

Rare diagnosis

When Katie was about 6 months old, Tara and Jeff brought her to a facility in Birmingham, Alabama, where she received a gastronomy tube. More importantly, she received genetic testing for rare neuromuscular diseases. Katie’s results were positive for a variant of congenital myasthenic syndrome known as a fast-channel CMS.

“The doctor gave us the medicine and said we’d know in a matter of minutes if it works,” Tara says. “So we gave it to her the next day. It was the first time I was able to see her eyes. Up until then, her eyes were like slits. Her eyelids would barely open and her eyelids would droop, which is called ptosis.”

In addition to having the muscular strength to open her eyes, Katie found her voice following her initial doses of the drug. “So she screams, and I run over to her, and she laughs. And that’s all I hear for the rest of the day,” says Tara. “I’d never heard my baby make a noise, and it was a sort of scary.”

Over the next year, Tara and Jeff diligently worked with Katie to teach her how to swallow. She worked with physical therapists to learn how to roll, sit and scoot.

“But she couldn’t really pull herself up or stand. She was very smart but not very strong, and she wasn’t getting to the next level,” says Tara, who had joined several support groups by that time. “So I’m in the CMS support group, and everyone started talking about Dr. Engel and Mayo Clinic.”

Jeff and Tara researched the work Dr. Engel had done developing gene-specific medications for congenital myasthenic syndrome. At present, there are more than 30 known genes that, when mutated, cause the disease. After learning that other children with Katie’s disease variant all seemed to flourish after receiving treatment recommended by Dr. Engel, Tara, with the support of Katie’s local neurologist, requested an appointment for her daughter.

Individualized medicine

Unlike the experience they had with other medical specialists they’d visited, when Tara and Katie arrived at Mayo Clinic for Katie’s exam in the Division of Child and Adolescent Neurology, Tara did not have to explain her daughter’s condition to the doctors or ask questions about her child’s treatment plan.

“This is the first time that I’ve been to a hospital that I didn’t have to ask them anything,” Tara says. “I got to be a mom, to not talk, and be quiet and listen. I got to learn and was able to trust them. I got to be able to hand her off for a serious procedure and walk away not worried.”

From the way Katie’s nurses addressed her aversion to the blood pressure cuff to the simple explanations provided by Dr. Engel, each moment was steeped in compassionate care.


“With Katie’s mutation, it wasn’t clear which medication would help more. But with the experience of Mayo Clinic, we were able to prescribe the correct medication.”

Duygu Selcen, M.D.

“It was about addressing her tiny emotional needs that other people feel are irrelevant,” Tara says. “[Dr. Engel] really cared, and you could tell he really cared.”

Following the appointment, Katie was prescribed a newer medication shown to be effective in increasing muscular function in children with her specific mutation. According to Dr. Selcen, with congenital myasthenic syndrome, it’s critical to give mutation-specific medication because some medications can actually worsen symptoms of the disease.

“With Katie’s mutation, it wasn’t clear which medication would help more,” Dr. Selcen says. “But with the experience of Mayo Clinic, we were able to prescribe the correct medication.”

The drug works by creating more of the chemical that’s essential to transmitting nerve signals to the muscles. As a result, Katie has more endurance, less fatigue and will be able to build up muscular strength, Dr. Selcen says.

Rapid results

Each day, four times a day, Katie now receives the medication. As she grows, the amount of the drug she receives will increase with her weight. She is closely monitored by her local neurologist, who is an important member of Katie’s care team.

The difference in their daughter since visiting Mayo Clinic is a 180-degree turnaround, Jeff says.

“When I picked them up from the airport, we stopped to get something to eat. Katie was able to sit down beside me by herself and eat,” Jeff says. “That wouldn’t have happened before. Since then, she’s been able to gain muscle. She’s walking now, unassisted. It’s a snowball effect in the right direction.”


“We’ve been very blessed, and I feel like I have my dream team with Dr. Selcen and Dr. Engel.”

Tara Emerson

These days, Katie can walk as much as 6 feet independently. She now sings the songs, such as “You Are My Sunshine,” that Jeff has been singing to her since she was born.

“She has needs, but it’s routine at this point,” Tara says. “We’ve been very blessed, and I feel like I have my dream team with Dr. Selcen and Dr. Engel. They are team players, and that is so essential to improving these disorders that are so complex and rare.”


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Mon, Sep 17 4:58pm · Subduing Pancreatic Cancer Involves International Odyssey

When she was 38, Radhika Sattanathan received a frightening diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Taking the advice of her physician in India, Radhika sought care halfway around the globe at Mayo Clinic. Today, she's cancer-free.

When she was 38, Radhika Sattanathan received a frightening diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Taking the advice of her physician in India, Radhika sought care halfway around the globe at Mayo Clinic. Today, she’s cancer-free.


Radhika Sattanathan was a young mother and wife living in Mumbai, India, when abdominal symptoms first struck her seven years ago. A sharp, sudden pain was accompanied by hours of severe vomiting. The episode sent Radhika to a local emergency department, where she learned she had acute pancreatitis.

Radhika spent nearly two weeks in the hospital receiving treatment. Her hospitalization marked the beginning of a medical journey that lasted for years and led Radhika through a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer and, ultimately, to Mayo Clinic for pioneering treatment.

Today, Radhika is cancer-free. She attributes her good health to the support of her husband, Suresh Mahadevan, and her medical team, which included both Indian and American gastroenterologists and oncologists.

“We see many patients with pancreatic cancer who were told that their tumor is not removable and are given palliative therapy or just sent home to die,” says Michael Kendrick, M.D., of Mayo Clinic’s Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. “It is very rewarding to tell patients that there is hope. While pancreatic cancer is still a difficult cancer to treat, and recurrence is common, we are making great strides. We definitely cure some and improve the quality of life and duration of life in many others.”

Santhi Swaroop Vege, M.D., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist who collaborates with Radhika’s physician in India, says several factors contributed to Radhika’s success.

“I think one could say she probably survived because the diagnosis was made early, and the surgery was done laparoscopically, so she was able to receive the chemotherapy more quickly after surgery,” Dr. Vege says. “All the planets aligned for her.”

Severe situation

When Radhika had her first bout of pancreatitis in July 2011, she was 34 years old and had a 1-month-old infant. For the next two years, the disease and its symptoms — abdominal and back pain, nausea, vomiting, and fever — wreaked havoc on Radhika’s life.

In and out of the hospital 10 times in the first year alone, Radhika saw her condition improve only after she learned that fatty foods could be triggering flare-ups. By changing her diet, Radhika began managing her condition. Her frequency of hospitalizations decreased, and she learned the steps required to minimize flare-ups.

“In summer of 2013, we moved to Singapore. For two years, everything was fine,” Radhika says. “I knew how to manage my body. When I started feeling the symptoms of pancreatitis, I fasted — not even consuming water — for a couple of days till the symptoms subsided.”


“My husband asked the doctor what he would do, and the doctor said he would go to Mayo Clinic.”

Radhika Sattanathan

But in 2015, Radhika experienced a type of abdominal pain that was new. It came on slowly and didn’t intensify when she ate or drank. Radhika soon learned it wasn’t the pancreatitis. This pain was caused by a cancerous growth that had taken root in her pancreas.

Radhika consulted with her gastroenterologist in India, and she learned that her cancer required immediate surgery. He presented Radhika with three treatment options for the operation, known as the Whipple procedure. She could have the conventional, open abdominal surgery in India, receive that same surgery in Singapore, or travel to the U.S. and receive the surgery laparoscopically at Mayo Clinic.

“My husband asked the doctor what he would do, and the doctor said he would go to Mayo Clinic,” Radhika says.

Less than a week later, in September 2015, Radhika and Suresh were at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, where Radhika was admitted to the hospital.

Tough therapy

Although Radhika’s Mayo Clinic medical team was eager to move forward with her treatment, imaging revealed that not only was the tumor large, but Radhika also had developed a blood clot in a vessel near the pancreas. The clot needed to be treated before Dr. Kendrick could perform the operation. Radhika was put on blood thinners and informed that she would need to begin chemotherapy immediately.

Radhika opted to return to Singapore for four rounds of chemotherapy. The medicine, called Folfirinox, was administered over the course of three days every 15 days. Folfirinox, says Dr. Kendrick, is among the newer chemotherapy agents used for pancreatic cancer and can be more difficult to tolerate than other drugs.

“The benefit is that it’s harder on cancer cells,” Dr. Kendrick says. “So that’s why we’re seeing these remarkable responses.”

Radhika recalls that the side effects of the chemotherapy were tough to take.

“For the first two days after the treatment, my tongue would go numb, and I couldn’t speak,” she says. “The tastes on my tongue also went away. My body would become very stiff. I needed help to even go to the bathroom. When I washed my hands, I felt a painful, needle-poking sensation. I could not touch anything even mildly cold. I felt dizzy. I had cramps, stomach pains, vomiting, constipation, hair loss, loose stools.”

In addition, Radhika’s bone marrow production slowed during her chemotherapy sessions, and her blood counts dropped. Radhika’s blood sugar levels also increased, and she required insulin shots. The first time Radhika’s parents saw her during the chemotherapy treatments, they were extremely concerned by the side effects their daughter was experiencing.

“My husband was so supportive. He told my parents not to worry,” Radhika says. “He never gave up on me. He fought for me. He kept saying, ‘Nothing will happen to you.'”

In December, as soon as Radhika could travel after completing her last round of chemotherapy, she and Suresh flew back to Minnesota, where she had more imaging at Mayo Clinic. The new scans revealed the tumor had decreased in size but still involved major blood vessels. Radhika’s team recommended radiation therapy as the next step.

“We were like: ‘What is this? It’s the second time we’re here, and the surgery is not happening,'” Radhika says. “So we flew back to Singapore again and started doing radiation.”

In addition to receiving radiation therapy, Radhika received more chemotherapy in early 2016. When the treatment was complete, Radhika’s medical team regrouped and began discussing surgery once more.

“This time, before coming, we did CT scans and sent them to Dr. Kendrick,” Radhika says. “He said everything looked fine and fixed the surgery date for April 12.”

Innovative operation

Radhika’s surgery at Mayo Clinic involved removing one-third of her pancreas, the bile duct, the gall bladder, and the duodenum, or top part of her small intestine.

“The organs are removed, and then we use the intestine to hook everything back together,” Dr. Kendrick says.

Traditionally, the Whipple procedure involves making a large incision through the abdominal wall to remove the organs and restructure a patient’s anatomy. Recovery time can range from weeks to months. Although it’s still major surgery, performing the procedure laparoscopically eases recovery significantly.

“The patient has six tiny incisions, about one-half inch in size, and they have almost no pain,” Dr. Kendrick says. “Patients are walking the next day, and many are out of the hospital in five days.”

In Radhika’s case, the cancer was removed, as were several lymph nodes. Although she still required follow-up treatment to make sure all cancer cells were eliminated, the surgery was a success.

“Everything went really well for her,” Dr. Kendrick says. “Mayo Clinic is a world leader with this kind of surgery. We have the most experience and have advanced the technique in many ways, including use for patients with advanced pancreatic cancer.”


“She really is one of these cases where she’s living and very happy, and we hope she will do well for a long time.”

Santhi Swaroop Vege, M.D.

Radhika was discharged from the hospital five days after surgery. For the next month, she stayed with family members in Iowa. At her one-month follow-up appointment, Radhika was cleared to go home.

Back in Singapore, Radhika had additional chemotherapy treatments. With all her treatment now complete, Radhika checks in with her physicians every three months for blood tests and imaging exams to monitor her condition. Looking back, Radhika is amazed she came through her cancer treatment as well as she did.

“I used to give up. I cannot tolerate pain at all, and every time they used to poke me, I used to cry and cry and would say, ‘I’m done,'” Radhika says. “Somehow I came out of all of that.”

For as difficult as her journey was, the outcome is remarkable, Radhika’s physicians say.

“We were aggressive because of her young age,” Dr. Vege says. “Today there is no evidence of cancer. Her CT scans are normal. She really is one of these cases where she’s living and very happy, and we hope she will do well for a long time.”


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Fri, Sep 14 7:00am · Released to Reengage With Life

Weighed down by pain and weakness, Valieda Burns became confined and isolated. But neurosurgery to decompress her spine freed her to once again be active, engaged and connected with others.

Weighed down by pain and weakness, Valieda Burns became confined and isolated. But neurosurgery to decompress her spine freed her to once again be active, engaged and connected with others.


In July, 78-year-old Valieda Burns took the trip of a lifetime — a 14-day cruise to the British Isles with a side trip to Paris. It was a journey that had been on her bucket list for years, but one she almost didn’t get to make.

A year before the cruise, Valieda began having pain in her calf, tingling in her fingers, weakness in her right arm and leg, and then increasing weakness in both legs. Visits to her primary care doctor ruled out back issues or a blood clot. But her condition worsened.

“She couldn’t lift her arm or hold on to things. She couldn’t manipulate a fork to eat. I had to cut up her meat, so she could eat it with a spoon,” Valieda’s daughter, Susan Strivens, says. “I had to come over every day to help her shower and get dressed. And her walking was deteriorating very rapidly.”

As her health problems grew, Valieda’s world shrank. Only able to get around using a walker, the once-active Wausa, Nebraska, resident stopped going to play cards with her friends and didn’t want to be out in public. She wasn’t able to do day-to-day activities she enjoyed, either, like mowing the lawn or tending to her garden.

“Mom became socially isolated,” Susan says. “The only time she went out was to see the doctor.”

Knowing that wasn’t how she wanted to live, Valieda went to see a neurologist. The appointment led to a referral to Mayo Clinic and, ultimately, to neurosurgery that restored her mobility and gave Valieda the freedom to sail on the cruise she had dreamed of.

Mapping out a plan

In September 2017, Valieda’s local neurologist ordered a CT scan and an MRI to investigate her condition. The MRI revealed the source of the problem — a large mass in the back of Valieda’s neck was causing severe spinal cord compression at the base of her skull and the top of her spinal cord. The neurologist referred Valieda to Mayo Clinic.

Susan accompanied her mom to a consult with neurosurgeon Benjamin Elder, M.D., Ph.D., at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus on Nov. 14, 2017. He diagnosed a C1-2 pannus, also called pseudotumor formation. These masses result from instability between the first and second vertebrae in the neck — in the cervical section of the spine — and typically occur in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They are relatively rare in people like Valieda who do not have inflammatory arthritis.

In Valieda’s case, the mass and instability occurred because her first cervical vertebrae had grown together with her skull, putting additional stress on the C1-2 joints. Dr. Elder recommended she undergo a procedure called an occipitocervical fusion, during which the skull is fused to the top of the spine with screws.

“Amazingly, once the spine is stabilized with screws, the mass begins to regress and can even disappear completely over four to six months,” Dr. Elder says.


“[Dr. Elder] was very kind and very thorough.” 

Valieda Burns

Dr. Elder explained to Valieda that if left untreated, her condition would continue to deteriorate.

“He told mom if she didn’t have the surgery, she would eventually be in a wheelchair and could even become completely paralyzed,” Susan says. “His goal was to not to let her progress and get worse.”

Valieda agreed to have the surgery, confident in Dr. Elder’s expertise. “He was very kind and very thorough,” Valieda says. “I prayed that I’d be stabilized.”

Dr. Elder performed the surgery several weeks later, on Nov. 29, 2017. It went more smoothly than the team had anticipated. What was supposed to be a six-hour surgery only took three.

“If the spinal cord compression is too great, then a second-stage procedure is often required to remove the mass by going through the back of the mouth, which can be quite debilitating,” Dr. Elder says. “Fortunately, in Valieda’s case, we were able to shave off some of the bone at the base of the skull and the top of the spine to make room for the spinal cord where it was getting pinched, so we avoided the additional procedure through the mouth. I then fused her skull to the top of her spine to stabilize it.”

Enjoying active days again

After surgery, it quickly became clear that the procedure had made a significant difference.

“We went to see her in ICU, and the staff asked her to lift her arms above her head. She put them all the way up,” Susan says. “I was amazed and so very happy.”

When Valieda got up to use the restroom, she noticed a change right away. “I thought, ‘I can’t believe how good my legs feel.’ I felt wonderful,” Valieda says.


“My mom is better now than before her symptoms started. She does things now after the surgery that she hadn’t done for years. Dr. Elder is our miracle doctor.”

Susan Strivens

Valieda stayed in the hospital for six days following her surgery. To aid in recovery, she participated in rehabilitation for a week after returning home, and she wore a neck brace for six weeks. The improvement continued. Two months after the surgery, Valieda could move around without the help of a walker.

“She is able to be very active,” Dr. Elder says. “All of her weakness resolved.”

With Valieda happy and busy once more, she and her family couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

“I’m looking forward to spending time with my four children, nine grandchildren, and 20 great grandchildren, and being with my friends,” Valieda says.

“My mom is better now than before her symptoms started. She does things now after the surgery that she hadn’t done for years,” Susan notes. “Dr. Elder is our miracle doctor.”


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Wed, Sep 12 7:00am · Handily Moving Forward After Devastating Injury

When Kennedy Folkedahl's hand was cut off during a construction accident, the young man thought life as he knew it was over. But thanks to the support of his Mayo Clinic care team and years of physical therapy, Kennedy is embracing an alternate future with enthusiasm and appreciation.

David Dennison, M.D. with Kennedy Folkedahl.

When Kennedy Folkedahl’s hand was cut off during a construction accident, the young man thought life as he knew it was over. But thanks to the support of his Mayo Clinic care team and years of physical therapy, Kennedy is embracing an alternate future with enthusiasm and appreciation.


When Kennedy Folkedahl completely severed his left hand during a construction accident in 2015, his life changed in many ways — big and small. Then just 18 years old, he would no longer be able to do a proper pushup. Video gaming became nearly impossible. His future no longer would involve hammering nails or lifting heavy loads — tasks he had mastered easily before the injury.

But Kennedy underwent successful hand replantation surgery at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester within hours of the accident, and he doesn’t think much anymore about the negatives in his life. In the years since the accident, he has regained almost complete function in his hand. He’s changed and broadened his career aspirations. More importantly, he’s developed a gratitude for the circumstances in his life that have allowed for his healing.

“I would say my quality of life is determined not by what I am limited to do; it is determined by how I look at things,” says Kennedy, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa.

His outlook wasn’t always so optimistic. “When my hand got cut off, I had this sense that it was over,” Kennedy says. “It just felt like my dreams were ripped from reality and taken from me the instant I was cut by the saw.”

When his medical team learned about Kennedy’s sadness, his physician stepped in to provide extra support, encouraging him to stay positive through the lengthy healing process.

“I think the biggest challenge for Kennedy was probably accepting and adapting to his injury,” says David Dennison, M.D., the Mayo Clinic hand surgeon who performed Kennedy’s replantation, or reattachment, surgery. “He had a lot to get over with being upset about the injury, and I think he came a long way with accepting it and working through hand therapy, and buckling down and getting through it.”

Over in an instant

Kennedy’s accident took place on May 31, 2015 — the day before his 19th birthday. He was busy at a work site in Decorah, Iowa. He and a co-worker were putting up trim in a second-story apartment, and Kennedy was using a table saw to cut baseboards. As he was feeding the boards into the saw, the blade hit a knot in the wood. The wood jerked forward, Kennedy’s sleeve got caught in the saw, and his hand was pulled through and severed just above the wrist.

“I immediately ripped my shirt off and wrapped my nub and tried to control the bleeding,” Kennedy says. “I grabbed my hand and sat down in the stairway and told the kid I was working with to get some ice because I was thinking about the opportunity to reattach my hand. I was in such shock. I could still feel my fingers, but clearly they weren’t there. I honestly thought I was in a nightmare.”

Kennedy’s co-worker called for an ambulance, which raced him to Mayo Clinic Health System in Decorah, where he was put on a helicopter that flew him to Rochester. When Kennedy arrived at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Dennison and his operating room team were ready. As Kennedy was prepped for surgery, his hand was prepared for replantation.

“We basically started operating on his amputated hand first to identify, inspect and prepare the bones, tendons, nerves, arteries and veins for replantation,” Dr. Dennison says. “Once we had cleaned things up and quickly stabilized the bones, we then began putting the critical structures back together.”


“[A nurse] told me they got my hand reattached. It was surprising. But at the same time, I kind of just had a sense of calmness that I was going to be fine.”

Kennedy Folkedahl

Because Kennedy’s nerves were cut and injured, it was necessary to cut the bone in Kennedy’s forearm to shorten the limb, so the nerve ends could be repaired in a location where they would be able to heal and function again.

“The real challenge is trying to repair the nerves, so that they may work,” Dr. Dennison explains. “That’s probably the number one challenge to help him actually be able to feel things and to help the hand muscles work.”

When Kennedy woke up from the approximately eight-hour surgery, it was his birthday.

“I woke up to the nurse anesthetist telling me happy birthday,” Kennedy says. “She told me they got my hand reattached. It was surprising. But at the same time, I kind of just had a sense of calmness that I was going to be fine.”

Immediately after the surgery, Kennedy could slightly move his fingers. He stayed in the ICU with his hand wrapped in a medical device that supplied continuous heat to his arm and hand to promote circulation. When the swelling and inflammation around his wound began to decrease, he was transferred to a room on a surgical floor for monitoring before he was released.

Long road to recovery

The first several months of his recovery were exceedingly difficult, Kennedy says. His pain medicine was largely ineffective, and his misery was amplified by the grief he felt about his future.

“I wasn’t eating. My mood was terrible. I basically looked after my little brother while everyone else was working and moving on with their lives,” Kennedy says. “I pretty much stared at the walls. It was pretty brutal. I was contemplating different outcomes for my life, but I didn’t know if anything was going to work out. I almost kind of thought I might be maybe better to have [my hand] off. If it was going to be on and not work, what good would it be?”

During this time, Kennedy’s family reached out to his medical team for additional help supporting Kennedy in his new reality.


“[Dr. Dennison’s] ultimate goal was to not only make sure that my hand was functioning and working on that end of things, but he really wanted to make sure that I was OK as a person.”

Kennedy Folkedahl

“We tried to be optimistic about things,” Dr. Dennison says. “Based on the mechanism of injury and mechanics of the reattachment, we tried to prepare him for the months that were required before he could expect things to be working. And we also prepared him for if it wasn’t working.”

The support Dr. Dennison provided highlighted how much his team cared for him, Kennedy says.

“I was very blessed to have him as my surgeon and be by my side,” Kennedy says. “[Dr. Dennison’s] ultimate goal was to not only make sure that my hand was functioning and working on that end of things, but he really wanted to make sure that I was OK as a person — that I was looking forward to things in my life and that I was no longer depressed.”

A future redefined

As Kennedy progressed into physical therapy, which he received three times a week for two years at a hand therapy clinic in Des Moines, his outlook began to shift. His physical therapists used different massage techniques to loosen the scar tissue and help activate the nerves. Stretching exercises helped reintroduce motion into his fingers. In time, Kennedy was able to strengthen his hand and gain dexterity.

While Kennedy was rehabilitating from his accident, he also attended college. In April 2018, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business finance. He hopes to continue working in the construction industry, focused more on finance and investing, and less on the actual building.

Today, his fingers have near normal function. While his thumb never will regain all of its previous abilities, he can open his fingers and make a fist. He can hold items, such as a soda can. And he can pinch objects between his thumb and fingers. He can feel hot and cold, distinguish between hard and soft textures, and sense wetness.

Kennedy says the area around his scar does hurt occasionally, especially if he’s overworked his wrist and hand. But when he’s wearing a watch, his scar is essentially invisible.


“Kennedy really made a big recovery. … Seeing him recover physically and mentally was terrific.” 

David Dennison, M.D.

The normal appearance he presents, however, belies the tremendous effort that went into his rehabilitation.

“No one will really know everything Kennedy went through,” Dr. Dennison says. “It wasn’t just the hand getting better. Kennedy really made a big recovery. He was sad, and it took some time for him to get to the point where he could see beyond the injury. Seeing him recover physically and mentally was terrific.”

Part of Kennedy’s healing included recognizing that despite the severity of his injury, the circumstances surrounding the event were a best-case scenario. Having a clean cut with a narrow zone of injury, recovering and icing the severed hand, and undergoing surgery within hours of the incident all played into his successful recovery.

“Everything happened so quickly, but it happened right,” Kennedy says. “I wasn’t going to just leave my hand there and sit and cry about it. I’m always trying to improve my situation. Whatever came over me that day, I was very blessed to have that happen. I am very lucky. God is good.”


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Mon, Sep 10 2:10pm · Embracing Family Life After Overcoming a Rare Disorder

Brittany Kale was plagued with nagging symptoms: weight gain, a swollen face, high blood pressure. She also had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant for years. She finally found relief at Mayo Clinic, where she was diagnosed and treated for Cushing disease. That made it possible for her to start a family and feel healthy again.

Brittany Kale was plagued with nagging symptoms: weight gain, a swollen face, high blood pressure. She also had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant for years. She finally found relief at Mayo Clinic, where she was diagnosed and treated for Cushing disease. That made it possible for her to start a family and feel healthy again.


The birth of her daughter, Kaylee, in May 2014 gave Brittany Kale new hope. The future became even brighter in 2017 when Brittany welcomed a baby boy, Tripp.

“I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to have a child, and for it to become reality, I felt very blessed,” Brittany says. “That’s when I knew everything was OK.”

The 32-year-old pharmacy technician from Bainbridge, Georgia, had been trying to get pregnant for years. That strong desire to become a mom, coupled with a host of nagging symptoms, eventually led her to Mayo Clinic and a diagnosis of Cushing disease.

Unexplained symptoms

An uncommon condition, Cushing disease occurs when a noncancerous pituitary gland tumor secretes adrenocorticotropic hormone, or ACTH. Under normal circumstances, ACTH is made by the pituitary gland, and it regulates the body’s production of cortisol. When a pituitary tumor secretes ACTH, it stimulates the adrenal glands to make too much cortisol. The extra cortisol triggers symptoms such as weight gain, fragile skin, fatigue, muscle weakness and more.

Brittany began to notice symptoms of Cushing disease in 2011 — although at that point she had no idea what was causing them.

“I had gained weight. I looked swollen in my face,” Brittany says. “I would tell people my red face was due to rosacea. But I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”


“I felt horrible emotionally, physically and mentally. I was in bad shape.”

Brittany Kale

Her concern grew when she learned she had high blood pressure. “That’s when I started wondering if something more serious was wrong,” Brittany says. “I felt horrible emotionally, physically and mentally. I was in bad shape.”

After routine bloodwork for her employee physical in early 2012, Brittany found out that on top of her other medical issues, her cholesterol also was high. She began researching her symptoms and came upon Cushing disease. It seemed to fit.

Brittany asked her local health care provider to check her cortisol levels in February 2012. When they came back abnormal, Brittany was referred to an endocrinologist in Alabama. That specialist performed additional tests and then recommended Brittany go to Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus for further evaluation.

A path toward better health

At Mayo Clinic, Brittany met with Victor Bernet, M.D., chair of the Department of Endocrinology, who ordered tests to check the level of cortisol in her blood, urine and saliva. Those tests and an imaging exam confirmed the diagnosis Brittany had suspected: Cushing disease.

“When we conducted an MRI, we saw she had a benign tumor on her pituitary, which was causing the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol,” Dr. Bernet says.

Dr. Bernet arranged for Brittany to meet with Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon Ronald Reimer, M.D., who recommended the tumor be surgically removed. After talking it over with Dr. Reimer, Brittany decided to move forward, and she underwent surgery on Aug. 10, 2012.


“I feel very blessed to be back to normal, and I’m most looking forward to being happy and living life with my family.”

Brittany Kale

“Dr. Bernet and Dr. Reimer are two of the most caring doctors I’ve ever met,” Brittany says. “Dr. Reimer checks in on me from time to time. It means the world to me to know that he cares that much about his patients.”

After the tumor was removed, Brittany began taking hydrocortisone replacement therapy to provide her body with the correct amount of hormones until it could do so once again without medication.

“On average it takes four to 12 months to awaken the remaining normal pituitary cells that make ACTH,” Dr. Bernet says. “You start at a higher dose and gradually lower it until those cells in the pituitary can produce ACTH on their own.”

The surgery and treatment worked. Within six months, Brittany’s symptoms went away. “I lost a lot of weight and was getting compliments at how good I looked,” she says.

By July 2013, Brittany tapered off all the medicine. Just one month later, her wish to start a family was fulfilled when Brittany learned she was pregnant.

Five years later

In August 2017, for their 10th wedding anniversary, Brittany and her husband went on a road trip to Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. It’s a trip Brittany had made 13 years earlier when she graduated from high school and had always wanted to go on again. The trip also was a celebration of the five-year anniversary of the surgery that put her on a path to renewed health.

“When I was sick, I didn’t want to be around people. To be able to have two children and feel normal … it’s hard to describe,” Brittany says. “I feel very blessed to be back to normal, and I’m most looking forward to being happy and living life with my family.”


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Sat, Sep 8 5:00pm · A New Kidney With a Little Help From His Friends

When Fred Anderson needed a new kidney, he didn't have to look far to find eager donors. His friends Jim Ross and Ted Schreiber both stepped forward. Although Jim ended up being the donor, all three banded together to ensure the transplant journey included plenty of support and camaraderie.

Left to right are Jim Ross, Fred Anderson and Ted Schreiber.

When Fred Anderson needed a new kidney, he didn’t have to look far to find eager donors. His friends Jim Ross and Ted Schreiber both stepped forward. Although Jim ended up being the donor, all three banded together to ensure the transplant journey included plenty of support and camaraderie.


Fred Anderson of Great Falls, Montana, isn’t deterred by much. His background as a cattle rancher, his 45-year career in public education, and now his time as a member of the Montana House of Representatives, have prepared him to handle all kinds of adversity. That resilience came in handy recently as he went through the process of receiving a new kidney.

Fred’s loyal friend Jim Ross also is not one to be deterred. Jim, from Canyon Lake, Texas, was a Navy pilot in 1992 when he led the first F-18 fighter jet into Baghdad during the start of Operation Desert Storm. His skill and nerve qualified him to serve three tours as a pilot for the famed Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Team. When he found out Fred needed a kidney, Jim quickly stepped forward to donate to his longtime friend.

Although it took some time, their fortitude paid off. The two were a match, and Fred and Jim were accepted by the Kidney Transplant Program at Mayo Clinic’s Arizona campus. A third friend, Ted Schreiber, joined Jim and Fred in Phoenix to provide care and support, while adding to the camaraderie.

Determined to help

When they learned Fred needed a new kidney, Jim and Ted carefully considered who on “Team Fred” might provide the lifesaving organ. Both were ready to be Fred’s donor. But eventually, the trio of friends decided it would be Jim.

With that decision under their belts, the guys were ready to go. But a glitch early on threatened to derail their plans. The first medical center they contacted rejected them. Jim, at 68, was over that facility’s age limit to qualify as Fred’s kidney donor.

The friends weren’t to be deterred, however, and decided to call Mayo Clinic. They were accepted, and both passed the comprehensive tests that showed them to be fit for the surgery and confirmed they were a good match. This time, Jim’s age didn’t stop him from donating to Fred, who is 74.

The green light to move forward came at an opportune time. Fred’s kidneys were functioning below 20 percent, and his condition required regular dialysis. Time was of the essence.

When the day of the transplant came, Fred and Jim were ready to go at 5 a.m. The start of their surgeries was delayed, however, by an event that turned the early start of their day into what the two dubbed a “double-blessing morning.” While they were waiting, a donor organ that was a match for another patient came in. “We were honored to wait our turn,” says Fred. “Someone else had the blessing of a new life.”

Surrounded with expertise

Fred and Jim pride themselves on being fearless, and that was their approach toward the transplant surgery. Everything went the way they had hoped it would, and Jim felt strong enough to walk to Fred’s hospital room within a few hours after his surgery. Fred wasted no time agreeing to cautious walks around the hospital floor.

Fred and Jim commend their surgeons and the entire Mayo Clinic transplant team. Caroline Jadlowiec, M.D., performed Jim’s donor surgery. “The minute I met Dr. Jadlowiec, I knew that she was the person I wanted to do my surgery,” says Jim. “She exudes confidence.”


“The minute I met Dr. Jadlowiec, I knew that she was the person I wanted to do my surgery. She exudes confidence.”

Jim Ross

Fred also was impressed with his surgeon, Adyr Moss, M.D. He appreciated Dr. Moss not only for his skills, but also his humor. “He told me his job was to be a ‘precision plumber,'” Fred recalls.

“Everyone was so professional,” Fred adds. “Just driving here to this hospital campus, you feel good, seeing the nature trail, the people and the friendliness. You know you are at a special place.”

Buoyed by friendship

After Fred and Jim left the hospital, it was Ted’s turn to play a key role in the transplant journey. Ted joined the others at an apartment they rented temporarily in Phoenix so he could be Jim’s caregiver. Ted admits, though, the job was pretty easy. Jim felt good enough after his surgery that he really didn’t need much caregiving.

Fred’s wife, Vicky, was part of the crew, too, serving as her husband’s caregiver after the transplant.

During Fred and Jim’s recovery the trio of friends spent time reminiscing about their early days. Fred and Ted got to know each other when they worked together — first as teachers and later as administrators. Jim and Ted’s history goes back a bit farther — to their high school years. Jim says Ted set him on the right path when they were younger, confessing that he tended to get into trouble. “Ted insisted that I attend confirmation classes with him,” says Jim. “It worked.”


“Just driving here to this hospital campus, you feel good, seeing the nature trail, the people and the friendliness. You know you are at a special place.”

Fred Anderson

Several days after Fred and Jim’s surgeries, they joined Ted for a celebratory photo in honor of their shared passion: cars and drag racing. The three donned T-shirts bearing the letters “RAS,” which stand for their last names: Ross, Anderson and Schreiber. The shirt also is emblazoned with the image of a classic car and the banner, “Speed Shop.” His friends are proud to point out that Fred has the honor of being in the Montana Hot Rod Drag Race Hall of Fame.

As they reflect on the experience of coming to Phoenix and Mayo Clinic for the transplant, Fred sums up the experience for all of them: “It’s like best friends coming home.”


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