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If you go looking for Charles Metzler, you’ll often find him out on the acreage he owns in the Rocky Mountain foothills near Casper, Wyoming. The 82-year-old spends his days tending his well-manicured lawn, caring for his troop of animals — ducks, rabbits, a pot-bellied pig named Mimi, and a miniature donkey named Haley — and working on projects to spruce up the property. He even acquired timbers from an old railway station that was being torn down and built a covered bridge over a stream on his land. “I think I might have one of the only covered bridges in Wyoming,” says Charles. “Projects like that are fun. I like to stay busy, and I like to be active.” For years, though, Charles’ activities were hampered by breathing problems. Chronic sinus trouble made breathing through his nose very difficult. He knew surgery might correct the problem, but he hesitated to go through with it. “I’ve had problems with my nose ever since my high school days. I saw quite a few doctors, and they all informed me that I probably should have my nose operated on, so I would feel better,” Charles says. “My problem was that I was always scared of having the operation. Then I met Dr. [Erin] O’Brien. It was just the manner in which she explained the surgery to me — what would occur and the benefits I’d derive from it. Her manner relaxed me. After that, I wanted to have that operation.”
Scott Berry is one of five children. But he and his youngest sibling, David, share a very unique bond — a kidney, to be exact. On April 12, 2016, David gave his older brother a second chance at life by donating one of his kidneys to Scott for a transplant.
The night before 8-year-old Evie McLeish’s brain surgery, her Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon David Daniels, M.D., Ph.D., told her parents, "I don’t want you to think of this as the end. This is just the beginning of a marathon." The procedure was the start of Evie’s long-term care plan for treatment of a brain tumor. Along with the brain surgery, that plan included chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Due to her age and the location of her tumor, though, her doctors recommended Evie receive proton beam therapy instead of conventional radiation therapy. The timing was right. Mayo Clinic had just begun a new Proton Beam Therapy Program at its Rochester, Minnesota, campus. And not only was this unique treatment readily available to Evie, it was relatively close to her family’s home in Ankeny, Iowa, just a three-hour drive away. "We were dealt a big blow with Evie’s tumor," says her mother, Ali McLeish. "But there have been silver linings in this whole thing, including that we could get proton beam therapy without having to travel across the country."
Shirley and Bob Gessner have weathered some tough times during their 56 years of marriage. But nothing could have prepared Shirley for the night of April 10, 2015, when she awoke at 3:30 a.m. to a thud — the sound of her husband falling out of bed. “I asked him what was the matter, but Bob couldn’t talk. He couldn’t move, and I couldn’t get him up,” says Shirley about her husband, a former advertising executive and designer of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Penguins logos. “I called 911 right away.” The ambulance took Bob, 82, to the hospital closest to his home in St. Augustine, Florida, where doctors confirmed he was having a stroke.
Jessie Brenholt is a certified pastry chef who would like to open a bakery one day. "If the ingredients were free, I'd give out cakes to everyone," she says. For a while, the 23-year-old's dream seemed to be in jeopardy. After months of being sick with weight loss, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and vision problems, Jessie found that the source of her symptoms was a tumor on her pituitary gland — a small gland located at the base of the brain that makes a variety of hormones. A neurosurgeon near her hometown of Hill City, Minnesota, found that the walnut-sized tumor was wrapped around Jessie's optic nerve and located close to a carotid artery. Treatment to get rid of it could affect Jessie's sense of smell and vision. Due to the complexity of the situation, the surgeon referred Jessie to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. "A pastry chef needs to be able to smell and see," says Jessie. "My doctors at Mayo Clinic understood my concerns and have been great about preserving my quality of life with surgery and proton beam therapy."
Travis McGinnis was just 30 years old when an insidious cancer was discovered in his brain. It had been growing there for some time, he says — his physicians estimated between five and 10 years. Had the stage-three oligoastrocytoma not been detected when it was, Travis would have likely lost his life. As it happened, thanks to care and treatment provided by neurologists and neurosurgeons at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, the only solid thing the father of three lost to the cancer was a fist-sized piece of his brain. While having cancer was something he never wanted, Travis says the experience gave him insights and gifts he would not have otherwise realized: deep appreciation for his family and friends, gratitude for the present, and faith in strangers who generously supported him. “Sometimes I’ll sit and think about everything I’ve been through, and it moves me to tears,” Travis says. “I’m alive and better for it. I wish I never would’ve had to go through it, but at least it wasn’t for nothing.”
Editor’s note: In this article, Alexandra Abreu-Figueroa, an intern in Public Affairs at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, shares her story and discusses why she participates in the First Coast Heart Walk, an annual event sponsored by Mayo Clinic. Growing up, I was always overweight. During my teenage years, in particular, I struggled — losing and gaining weight over and over again. I tried different diets, pills and exercises while battling bullying, depression and societal standards that said I should try to fix my body. As an adult, I made the decision to have a gastric lap band inserted to help control my weight, but it still didn’t change my mindset. Obesity is not out of the ordinary in my family nor in my culture. Most of my family members have had challenges with obesity at one point in their lives. And, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 42.5 percent of Latinos are overweight or obese.
During the holidays last year, Nancy and Brent Berry of Danbury, Iowa, went on a train ride with their children and grandchildren, after a two-hour car ride to get there. They’ve been horseback riding with friends. They’re laughing, running errands together, and hosting their grandchildren for overnight stays. Not long ago, they couldn't enjoy any of those activities. Pain affected every aspect of their lives. Brent quit his job several years ago due to medical disability. He has several chronic medical conditions, including inflammatory arthritis and chronic fatigue. He took prescription opioid and benzodiazepine medications for pain and sleep problems. He slept a lot. Then Nancy got sick from the West Nile virus, caused by a mosquito bite. Her muscles swelled, her joints felt hot, and she had severe fatigue and pain. "I was unable to do my normal activities," she says "I was in a downward spiral into chronic pain, and everything that goes with it — anxiety and depression. I felt like I was losing my life." The Berry's turned to the Pain Rehabilitation Center at Mayo Clinic as what seemed like a last resort. Through the program, they found a new way to approach their conditions, along with renewed hope for the future.
“My husband and I would have totally crumbled if the support hadn’t been there,” says Lynn Luloff, chief financial officer of Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah, Iowa. Luloff is one of many Mayo Clinic Health System staff who work at the Decorah medical center who saw their daily routines washed away the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 24, when 8 to 10 inches of rain led to major flooding in the area. Mayo Clinic Health System provides physician services and management services at Winneshiek Medical Center. The crisis, according to leaders at the medical center, revealed an unwavering commitment by health system staff not only to serve patients, but also each other.