• Cancer Patient Stories

    Compass to Care: The Mike & Sandy Ernsdorff Childhood Cancer Foundation

Michelle Ernsdorff as a child
14-month old Michelle Ernsdorff

In 1974, 14-month old Michelle Ernsdorff was diagnosed with a Wilm's tumor, a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children. Michelle's hometown pediatricians in Dubuque, Iowa, had little experience treating a child with Wilm's, so her parents, Mike and Sandy Ermsdorff, began searching for other options. They soon learned that Mayo Clinic was hosting a clinical trial for children with Wilm’s tumors and determined that this was the best option for their infant daughter.

Michelle was part of a clinical trial led by Gerald Gilchrist, M.D., a Mayo Clinic pediatric oncologist. During the trial, Michelle developed scoliosis secondary to the radiation therapy. For the next 12 years the Ernsdorffs struggled with medical expenses, as well as the non-medical, out-of-pocket expenses that came with regularly traveling 175 miles from Dubuque, Iowa to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Michelle and her father, Mike
Michelle and her father, Mike

Today, Michelle is a healthy and successful woman. Despite her battle with cancer and scoliosis, she has completed several triathlons and a marathon. Most recently, she was the Vice President of Marketing for a company that manufactured fluorodeoxyglucose for PET scans. Through her work, Michelle was able to interact with cancer patients and give them hope as she shared her own story.

Michelle recently started Compass to Care: The Mike & Sandy Ernsdorff Childhood Cancer Foundation in honor of her parents. With her experience working in the medical field, Michelle realized that her parent’s situation was similar to many families that deal with medical-related travel costs. Her vision is for Compass to Care to aid with the financial responsibility dealing with scheduling, hotel stays, flights, as well as reimbursing families for gas, bus fare, parking fees, meals and many other expenses as they travel for medical care.

Michelle and her mother, Sandy
Michelle and her mother, Sandy

“All the incidentals, especially with families, add up. And when the parents take time off work, the family income is reduced,” says Ernsdorff. “It’s important to raise awareness of these travel costs, and it’s my hope that Compass to Care will provide families with the financial support to enable them to travel in order to receive the best cancer care for their children.”

Ernsdorff says that Compass to Care was recently able to fund their first family. On July 9, 2010, Compass to Care will be officially launched in Dubuque, Iowa. For more information, visit www.compasstocare.org.

“Mayo Clinic has been so important in people’s lives all over the world,” Ernsdorff said, “And Compass to Care will enable families to not worry about the travel costs that come with seeking the best medical care.”

This post was submitted by Natalie Zheng, a summer intern in the Mayo Clinic Department of Public Affairs in Rochester.

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