• By Dana Sparks

In The Loop: Biology Professor Has Helping Others Down to a Science

July 5, 2016

Bill and Anika doing a research project

This story originally appeared on the In the Loop blog.
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In the summer of 2013, Anika Geibel was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor. She was just 7 1/2 years old. The diagnosis turned her life — and the lives of her family members — upside down. "We had been medically evacuated from Africa (where Anika was born and raised) and nothing seemed 'normal,'" Anika's mom, Rena Geibel, tells us. But during Anika's two years of treatment, the Geibels would eventually find "consistency and something 'normal' at Mayo" in routines beyond tests and procedures, feeding tubes and wheelchairs. On Mondays, for example, Anika "knew she would see Bill."

"Bill" is Bill Wellnitz, who visits with children like Anika two mornings a week on the 16th floor of the Mayo Building in Rochester. "I'm mainly supposed to pass out books to patients," he tells us of his role, "but I try to interact with both kids and parents in a number of different ways." One way is through science. The retired biology professor cooks up "simple experiments" that "help kids understand a little bit of science" while they're waiting for their appointments. The distraction helps make "a less-than-stellar situation bearable," Bill tells us. And it "makes a new, different, strange environment seem a bit more welcoming." Sometimes, the tricks of his trade even work like magic. "Doing science helps me forget about what is going to happen" during a medical visit or procedure, Anika told her mother, "and puts my mind on something else." Read the rest of Anika and Bill's story.

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