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When she was a teenager, Sharon Mills started having excruciating pain after eating. Medical tests found abnormalities with her liver but no reason for the irregularities or pain. She continued to experience the troubling symptoms for decades. As an adult, Sharon moved to different parts of the country several times. With each move, she visited academic medical centers and underwent a wide variety of tests and procedures in hopes of uncovering a reason for her pain. No one could give her an answer, until she moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
Growing up in Central Florida, Kimberly Kimmons was an active child. She loved swimming, biking and martial arts. But at age 12, Kim was diagnosed with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine that most often occurs during a growth spurt before puberty. Unfortunately, Kim’s family didn’t have the resources to fully address her spinal issues, and the scoliosis continued to get worse. Years later, when Kim and her husband, Kent, searched for specialists to help fix her back problems, they found neurosurgeons at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Jacksonville, Florida, who were confident they could help. But as they assessed her condition, Kim’s care plan became more complicated. In the end, she had three surgeries at Mayo Clinic to remedy back and neck issues. With time and recovery, Kim was able to reclaim her life.
It was 2012, and Beth Spreitzer was busy with life. Mothering her fourth-grade daughter and taking care of a household left no time to get sick. However, after experiencing what she thought were too many common symptoms – fatigue, chills, fever – and not improving, Beth thought something else must be wrong. "In the past, the most I'd ever have to fight off was a cold. I attributed my recent symptoms to being busy and getting older," Beth says. During a routine visit, her gynecologist noticed her thyroid was inflamed and tender to the touch. This butterfly-shaped gland rests in the bottom of the neck, around the windpipe. It has two side lobes that you can't feel when the thyroid is its normal size. The gland secretes hormones that regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and weight. Her doctor asked if she'd been sick. Beth confirmed that yes, she suffered from a fever and chills a couple of weeks earlier and even had a cold sore, which for her was uncommon. But she admits she didn't think much about the conversation afterward.
As senior captain of her high school volleyball team, Brooke Johnson was determined to lead her squad to the state tournament. Never mind that the team hadn’t made it there before. Or that her small school had never sent any athletic team to a state tournament. Or that Brooke had health issues that made playing a challenge. Not even that she required extensive hip surgery four months before the season started. None of that mattered to Brooke. “I was convinced we could do it,” she says. “That’s what I was working toward, and I refused to give up.” The obstacles in her path were significant. Her team at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, worked with Brooke, though, to see her through to her goal. And in November 2015, her Heritage Christian Academy volleyball team made its first appearance in the Minnesota state high school tournament, earning third place overall.
Successfully finishing a medical residency is a significant milestone in any physician's career. But when Natalie Ertz-Archambault, M.D., graduated in June 2016 from the Internal Medicine Residency at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus, the achievement felt particularly sweet. "It was an incredible success for me, since I actually started my residency in 2012, completed four months, and then became too ill to work," she says. "At that time, I wasn't sure if I'd ever reach graduation."
When Gene Franke left his farm in rural Hayfield, Minnesota, driving a semi-trailer truck loaded with hay and bound for Oklahoma, he never imagined the return leg of his journey would be as a passenger in an air ambulance jet. But in September 2011, that’s exactly what happened. A serious accident left Gene paralyzed and in critical condition. Doctors in Oklahoma didn’t think he would survive. Longtime patients of Mayo Clinic, Gene and his wife, Barbara, were determined to get him back to Mayo's Rochester, Minnesota, campus for care. “The doctors at Mayo Clinic knew what was going on, and they assured us they could do something for him,” Barbara says. “We knew he had to get up here. The care at Mayo Clinic is like nowhere else. We’re used to it, and that’s what we wanted.”
For two weeks, 14-year-old Jackson Fisher was plagued by headaches, double-vision, nausea and weight loss. His parents, Michelle and Patrick Fisher, weren’t sure what was wrong. But when Jackson came home one evening completely exhausted after lacrosse practice, they decided it was time to find out what was going on. The next day, they took Jackson to the emergency room. What doctors found during that ER visit triggered a series of events the Fishers never could have anticipated and that eventually led the family to Mayo Clinic’s Proton Beam Therapy Program, where Jackson received treatment for a brain tumor. “Every single person we’ve met at Mayo Clinic has been amazing, and we feel like we were meant to meet them,” says Michelle. “His doctors told us they were going to fight for Jackson. They’ve been forthcoming and explained things simply and honestly. I never second guessed his care. Being at Mayo Clinic has been the most positive experience of our lives.”
When he was 16 years old, Connor Bleakley asked his father, David, if he could have his foot amputated. David thought it was probably a good idea. By that point, Connor had lived with severe pain in his foot and ankle for years. He had gone through numerous treatments to relieve the discomfort, with little effect. A sophomore in high school, Connor was unable to walk without crutches due to intense pain. So when, in desperation, Connor asked to have his foot taken off, David didn't see any other choices.
When stroke survivor R. Brady Johnson first visited Mayo Clinic nearly nine years ago, his doctors didn't quite know what to make of him. Not only was his stroke, at age 31, unusual, but his post-stroke physicality surprised the team of neurologists he'd come to see. It had been just over a year since Brady, who lives in Belvedere, Illinois, had a major stroke during a surgery to mitigate a cerebral hemorrhage. The stroke cost him the sensation in his right side, the ability to speak, to run, and a litany of other abilities. Yet, in the time between the stroke and visiting Mayo, the former senior airman for the U.S. Air Force and marathon runner had managed to coax his body to do things that his rehabilitation team initially said would be impossible.
Carol Mannell remembers her younger sister, Kathy VanHulle, as a woman who loved meeting new people and having fun. Carol recalls how, despite being in the midst of receiving care for a serious illness when she was at Mayo Clinic, Kathy would take time to strike up conversations with people sitting next to her in waiting rooms. She would ask them to write messages in a journal she carried with her. Kathy and Carol would sing together in her hospital room. Kathy even convinced members of her care team at Mayo Clinic to get up and dance. “We had a lot of fun. Everywhere Kathy went at Mayo, we’d talk, laugh and get people to do the happy dance with her,” Carol says. “She had a big personality.”