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When a doctor suddenly becomes the patient with a life-threatening illness, Mayo Clinic’s commitment to high-quality medical care that puts the needs of the patient first takes on fresh perspective, especially as it relates to the principle of compassionate care, which is a hallmark of Mayo Clinic. Such was the case when Joseph J. Tepas III, M.D., a 68-year-old pediatric surgeon in Jacksonville, Florida, learned that the wheezing and shortness of breath he was experiencing turned out to be idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a potentially life-threatening disease that occurs from unexplained scarring of the lung tissue. In addition to doing pediatric surgery, Dr. Tepas is a practicing trauma surgeon and surgical intensivist. He is the medical director of the region’s only pediatric trauma unit, and, as a retired captain in the Navy Reserve, appreciates the critical importance of maintaining a personal commitment to health and fitness. Dr. Tepas had always lived a healthy lifestyle and, other than some occasional allergy symptoms, never had any significant health issues. But lying dormant in his otherwise healthy body was a disease that was quietly scarring and shutting his lungs down.
I want to share my story to possibly help another person and to hopefully help others who are still facing their own health unknowns. I struggled for years with extreme fatigue, major skin problems, muscle weakness, escalating eye issues, and a host of other unexplained symptoms. I moved to Georgia with more and more symptoms. I developed relationships with new doctors and developed new symptoms – seizures and heart-related syncope. I went to see a neurologist, who began to run tests. In the meantime, I had regular quarterly blood panels by my regular physician, who upon reporting to me by phone noted no irregularities. I was told time and time again to stop chasing a diagnosis. My family continued to watch my decline. After running numerous tests, my neurologist could only ascertain that I may have had some mini-strokes. My neurologist referred me to a major university hospital. After two visits, and being practically laughed out of the place, I began to have serious doubts about my symptoms and began to believe the many specialists and psychologists who told me it was emotional response.
Todd Goldrick was living the dream. Good job. Loving wife. Two young, healthy kids. Weekends spent playing golf, softball, kayaking, hiking, running or just hanging around home with the family. But that changed suddenly in 2010, when he and his wife simply tried to buy some life insurance. He was just 28. "Mine came back straight out denied," Todd says. "They told me the reasons. There was a whole long list -- high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a few other things that I don't remember exactly." Before that day, Todd says he'd been to see his doctor in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area "maybe every two years," so the policy denial came of left field. In fact, he says it scared him into doing nothing about it, at least initially. "I was kind of naïve and a little scared to go back to the doctor," he says. "So I didn't do anything." Six months later, he got a sinus infection that wouldn't go away, and eventually he went to urgent care, where some flags were raised unrelated to his sinuses. "They took my blood pressure, and it was 200 over 120," he says. "At that point, they told me I needed to go to the ER."
Some people who overcome a life-threatening illness feel motivated to give something back to those who helped make their recovery possible. Charlie Willwerth, a 61-year-old leukemia survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient from St. Augustine, Florida, is taking steps to help bring life-saving stems cells to others in need of a bone marrow transplant. Two years out from his bone marrow transplant, and with his leukemia in remission, Charlie recently completed courier training with Be The Match, the world’s largest bone marrow registry, to become a volunteer stem cell courier. His new “job” -- transporting life-saving stem cells from a donor’s location to a matching recipient -- can take him anywhere in the world. “This is the most direct way I can help others who have helped me get a second chance at life,” says Charlie. “If it wasn’t for my donor, I might not be here today to have the opportunity to help others with needs similar to mine.”
Sometimes the only way to respond to a thing of beauty is to pour your thoughts out onto the page. And that’s what Mayo Clinic patient Jerry O’Donnell, of Waterloo, Iowa, did after being moved, perhaps even changed, by experiencing the beauty of music in the atrium of the Gonda Building on Mayo’s Rochester campus. Over the past year, Jerry has been a regular visitor to Mayo Clinic, after being diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer located in the duodenum. It was a difficult diagnosis. “Over a short period of time, the reality of my health became more weight bearing,” he says. “Even while at Mayo, peaceful moments were difficult.” When something like that happens, he says, your values change and things take on a new significance. Jerry found healing moments while listening to the piano in the atrium in the Gonda Building. “The piano became a refuge,” he says. “Music brought hope and connection. A larger family emerged before me as did a humbler sense of self with more gratitude for just being alive today surrounded by the treasures of my life, my family. Music like ‘It’s A Wonderful World,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ and even ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ can change us.”