Humans of Hennepin Healthcare

In recognition of the variety of humans that make it possible to perform our mission at Hennepin Healthcare, we have refreshed our Stories from the Field series to become Humans of Hennepin, sharing reflections not only from employees but also from volunteers, donors, patients, and community partners.

Karin Vaccaro

Karin Vaccaro – Music Therapy

“Music therapy can support a patient’s journey toward health and well-being. The music creates and starting point and a connection between the patient and me that guides our time together. Music causes psychological responses in our bodies. There’s a concept in music therapy called entrainment. I first assess a patient’s rhythm by their speech, breath and movements. I match their rhythm by singing or playing a song they prefer at that rhythm, and then gradually adjust the tempo or character of the music to support a gentle lift of mood or relaxation, depending on the patient’s goals.

It's incredible how music can relieve pain and anxiety, and how it can create community across different cultures. I think many people who haven’t experienced music therapy assume it’s just someone singing. It’s more than that. Music therapy is a powerful tool to improve patient outcomes.”

Sean Tolefree

Sean Tolefree – Employee Labor Relations Director

“My team and I work with HHS management and the union partners to negotiate new contracts. If staff have difficulties understanding the language of the contract, our Employee Labor Relations team can help with that. The biggest thing I enjoy is that many times we’re faced with difficult issues that are not addressed in the contracts, but we work in a collaborative way to attempt to find a good resolution for all. That gives us a feeling of accomplishment.

I’m grateful that the landscape is changing as far as the diversity of leaders not just in Hennepin Healthcare, but other areas too. That makes me feel better because the greater the diversity means we have a wider lens and different voices to bring more experiences to the table. Then we can start shaping things that help the entire community. In the campus development plan, I see that we’re doing that. We’re talking with our management team, our leaders and different staff through forums, and HHS has been intentional in talking to the community to see what they want and need the hospital to be.”

Tyler Winkelman

Tyler Winkelman, MD, MSc – Acute care, Internal Medicine

“I have the best job. I get to provide patient care, have some leadership responsibilities, and do research that’s not possible anywhere else in the country. I can blend all of those things to make a meaningful difference for our community. I think it’s using these tools to change structures and systems to improve health that is one of the rewarding pieces about working here. We fill a critical need in the community by taking care of everyone and ensuring that the care we provide is excellent.

The work here can be tough, and there’s absolutely no way that it would be possible without such amazing people who work here. In both general internal medicine and the research lab, there is so much excellence to be proud of. The providers in our division are some of the most brilliant clinicians and educators in the country. They’re here to serve the mission of this organization. I think we sometimes take for granted the amazing people that we have here. The people that I get to work with every day are some of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever been around.”

Chanon Ridore

Chanon Ridore, NP – Pediatrics

“I think it’s important to gain trust with all of my patients by humanizing them. I want to eliminate the hierarchy that often exists between the patient and the provider by being relatable. I think that allows them to feel comfortable opening up to me and trusting that I’m not only coming from a place of medicine, but the place of a parent. Families appreciate when we can understand and empathize with their situations and challenges.

Working in pediatrics requires a special personality because it can be stressful. Not all of the patients can speak yet and tell you what’s wrong.  While that can be challenging, it’s truly rewarding. It takes a lot of grace. And I’m working with a great team that exemplifies that.”

Linda Collins

Linda Collins – Desktop Analyst, IT

“In IT Desktop, I’m the only woman. People usually recognize me by either my nails or hair – I like to change them up! I’ve been here since 1998, so I’ve seen major technology changes. We used to have big, clunky computers – they looked like box fans. Now our computers are about half the size of a standard piece of paper, and we have more wireless devices. When someone needed test results, they used to have to wait for a phone call. Now, providers can enter orders and check test results in Epic. Nurses have an easy way to document instead of walking around with pieces of paper in their pockets.

All of us are someone’s customer. Extending care and compassion for others the way we do here matters to me. I like knowing that what I do matters, whether it’s unlocking a password, installing software, or setting up a Zoom meeting for someone. I can help make some part of a provider’s day easy.”

Omer Iqbal

Omer Iqbal, MD, FHRS – Cardiology

“In the simplest terms, I’m an electrician of the heart. When people think of the heart, they typically think of heart attacks caused by blockages, but there’s a lot of people who don’t know about rhythm disorder. It can be life threatening. There are different types, and we treat all of them. I’ve worked at several other high-end institutions, and there is nothing in terms of equipment and technology that we don’t have in order to diagnose and treat those disorders. I’m proud to say that we can provide treatments that patients may not get otherwise.”

Barbara Lordi

Barbara Lordi – Volunteer, Redleaf Center

“I’ve worked with toddlers and infants and their families my whole career. Over the course of the mother’s program, I get to know them and their babies.  I support mothers during their day at the hospital by holding or playing with their babies when they need a break and settling or consoling their babies. It’s gratifying to point out a child’s new development milestones and skills. I love answering questions and helping moms learn about their babies in new ways. There are so many spontaneous teaching opportunities.

Because of the pandemic, I feel that volunteer work is even more important. The pandemic highlighted how important is it to be in community and support people. Everyone has a part. People are dealing with trauma but there’s joy, too, in working together for a common good. I’m really inspired when I see new moms support each other. Watching babies change and grow over a few weeks is fantastic. I’m grateful there’s a program like this supporting families during a difficult time, and I’m lucky to contribute.”

Eileen Kerr

Eileen Kerr, PA – East Lake Clinic

“When our clinic was destroyed in protests after George Floyd’s murder, Whittier Clinic was very kind in hosting us while we were reestablished. Our new space opened a few months ago. We all felt an opportunity for it to be the clinic we want it to be. It’s hard to address bias when you work in a caste system – and healthcare is a caste system. At East Lake Clinic, we are aware of this and work hard to combat that.

The biggest benefit of our new space is the incredible view we have of downtown Minneapolis. The clinic is so open and bright. We feel more connected to the community. We’re so grateful, especially for the beautiful rooms. We were gifted a number of precious pieces of art. It’s like walking through a museum. If I have a minute, I walk through the clinic to look at the art – the way it’s all arranged is incredible.”

Eduardo Colon

Eduardo Colón, MD – Adult Psychiatry Clinic

“Between my work in consultation service and the clinic, it’s clear that there’s increasing levels of distress with increasing need for services and care. We have seen a surge in relapses in people with substance abuse disorders and worsening depression and anxiety. This all comes at a time when access to services is limited. We’ve had to limit inpatient beds to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and caseloads in outpatient services are increasing. That results in backups, which creates stress for both patients and providers. We’ll be seeing the consequences of this for a while.

I work at Hennepin Healthcare because of our mission. Working with people struggling with so many social and medical stressors makes it challenging, and at times frustrating, but it also makes it gratifying. That’s why we’re here. The teaching mission is crucial to our community. There is a sense of belonging to a group with a common goal and a variety of skills. Everybody is truly invested in what they do here.”

Manji Osifeso

Manji Osifeso, MD – Internal Medicine, Geriatrics & Senior Care, Richfield Clinic

“I specialize in geriatric care because many of our patients are in that age range. I didn’t want them to be placed in the general adult patient category. By the time they get to an older age, they’ve faced many challenges and I want to make sure we give them excellent healthcare.

I’m thankful I’ve been able to work at HCMC and take care of a wide range of challenges cases. That’s what medicine is all about – managing both the simple and complex. You learn and grow from that.”

Melissa Labrosse

Melissa LaBrosse, PA-C, MPAS – Cardiology

“I get to see patients both in the hospital and when they’re in clinic. As a provider, it’s always satisfying to see how much better our patients look and hear how their quality of life has improved. Getting to know our patients and working with them to improve their daily life, whether that’s playing with their grandchildren or walking on the golf course, is really rewarding.

In the cardiology department, we educate our patients on their heart conditions and our recommendations. When patients understand their condition and why we want to do certain things, they trust us as their provider.”

Edward Thornton

Edward Thornton – Shred-It Vendor

“Shred-It collects and removes all confidential information for the entire hospital. That means I walk 25 miles a day going from department-to-department Monday through Thursday. Lots of peanut M&Ms give me the energy to walk that much!

I’ve been here going on 10 years now, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of the staff members. It’s a warm feeling – we share family stories. I see some of them outside of work when my kids play sports. Their kids are playing right by my kids. You really have to be a loving person to care for so many different patients on a daily basis. Watching the providers and nurses has been amazing for me.”

Bryan Nelson

Bryan Nelson, MD – Golden Valley Clinic

“Back in my college days, my grandfather in Missouri had several medical problems. Things didn’t go as well as they could have. That drove me to the medical field. I found that I enjoyed a wide variety of things, which is how I came to family practice. I have over time pivoted how I approach patient visits. I consider myself a healthcare advisor. That helps patients feel more comfortable and more involved in trying to achieve their health goals.”

Matt Munoz standing in front of Foundation banner

Matt Munoz – Development Officer, Foundation

“In Spanish, when you say ‘thank you,’ the return is not ‘you’re welcome.’ It’s ‘it was nothing.’ A lot of people here, and they might not be aware of it, are wired to say ‘it was nothing.’ I can feel gratitude when people stop and take the time to talk about their Hennepin experience and how the Foundation has enhanced their personal or professional experience. They’re expressing their gratitude through their story.

My job is to take our provider’s passion and mission and find how philanthropy can achieve their goals. That’s really what the Foundation is set up to do. We are helping Hennepin Healthcare play a role in change in the communities we serve.”

Tami Herrmann2 1

Tami Herrmann, NP – Emergency Department

“I had a young patient who overdosed. We see a lot of those cases. I checked on him multiple times throughout the night. When he was being discharged at the end of the night, he found me and thanked me for caring about him, for worrying about him. It really made me feel good. That was gratitude. Not everybody does that.”

masked male volunteer playing piano in front of window

Michael Wiggins – Volunteer, piano player

“Playing the piano in the Clinic and Specialty Center has been an amazing experience. Patients and their loved ones tell me that hearing the music helps, that it touches them. I’ve noticed one common thing with every reaction from people – they reflect on their childhood. To know that I have something to give to make people feel better, even if it’s just for a moment, is an honor.

I try to play music that’s a balance. People are in different types of moods, so I try to create a calm atmosphere. I had no idea the response I would get. I know music has an effect on people, but I didn’t realize my music could heal the mind until now.”

Dr Sonja Colianni with baby in clinic

Sonja Colianni, MD – Pediatrics

“Since second grade, I knew I wanted to be a pediatrician. Kids’ energy and enthusiasm was what drew me, and then seeing my own pediatrician’s ability to help and support families. I was the weird kid that always looked forward to going to the doctor!

I enjoy seeing families grow throughout the years and serving as their source of information about health issues. It’s an honor that people place that trust in me, that I can be involved in such formative years in a child’s life.”

Sue Hieb Stewart

Sue Hieb Stewart, OTR/L, C/NDT - Pediatric Occupational Therapist

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing.’ It looks like I get to play all day, but everything I do with the kids has a purpose.

When my pediatric patients come to see me, they are coming to ‘boot camp.’ They will be asked to work hard to make developmental changes, and most will make amazing improvements. The rewards are incredible.”

Rosemarie Heron

Rosemarie Heron – Welcome Services

“In my Native American culture, we emphasize learning patience and respect. It’s important for me to remember that we are all equal and we’re all connected in some way. I’m also Buddhist and there’s similar teachings. With those two identities, it can be tough, but I remember that everyone has a good quality within them, even if it’s blinded for the day.

For my community, knowing that I’m here is important to them because there’s not many of my skin color or culture here. They might be a little hesitant about asking for help. I come from where they come from. I feel gratitude that I’m here and able to say ‘I hear you.’ That’s important to them.”

male volunteer stocking white towels

Jim Parkin – Volunteer, infusion room

“I missed the comradery of the patients and the nurses, and the feeling that I’m doing some good for everybody involved. It’s been wonderful to see some of the patients I knew from pre-pandemic.

I’m known as the malt man. Our repeat patients know that the cafeteria usually offers milkshakes at 11 a.m. Bringing milkshakes to the patients is one of the high points of my day.”

James Toliver using exercise machine

James Toliver – Patient

"I had problems with my breathing, not knowing I was having a heart attack. I went to the ED and they found a blocked artery. Not once but twice, then I had bypass surgery. The whole process was scary. I was healthy before my heart attack, now I look at life differently. I am grateful to cardiac rehab, they got me back on my feet. They give you all the tools, you just have to bring the positive attitude. It doesn’t hurt to be kind.  I can walk longer now than I ever did before.  I’m back to doing normal things and being engaged with life."

Worry Monster

Worry Monster – Pediatrics

“I am not a human, but I help humans at Hennepin Healthcare. They call me a Worry Monster – my friends and I have been a welcome addition to Hennepin Healthcare since July, thanks to some creative sewers. We get to work with kids all day by helping them feel brave and overcome their fears. Sometimes, they’re nervous about an upcoming surgery, appointment, or anything else at home or school. These things can be scary, but we eat up their worries. Our kids write their worries on a piece of paper, zip us open, and stuff it inside us – delicious! Then, a trusted adult, maybe a family member or favorite nurse, will open us and take a worry out to talk about it.

Our favorite part about being a Worry Monster is seeing our kids go from anxious to confidently facing their worries. They are so brave – we love helping kids at Hennepin Healthcare!

P.S. We have been known to gobble up the worries of adults too, especially those struggling with mental health!”

Ashley Bjorklund

Ashley Bjorklund, MD – Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

“I enjoy partnering with families to improve whatever ailment has brought their child into the hospital. We’re there during a family’s toughest time – when their child is critically ill in the ICU. It is often heartbreaking, but also brings the opportunity to ease suffering as we help families understand what’s happening with their child and show them we are doing everything we can to get them through their illness. We fight together for those little lives.

My favorite moment is when we get to take out the breathing tube of a child who has been critically ill and on a ventilator, but no longer needs that support. It brings me so much joy to put them back in their family’s arms and to see them begin to interact with their family again.”

Connie Wang

Connie Wang, MD – Nephrology

“It’s rewarding to witness patients with kidney disease go through the steps of dialysis and then successful kidney transplantation. They go from feeling ill to energetic, from disappointment to rejuvenation. It’s never boring to watch this process over and over again.

In that process, language barriers are common. We have interpreters, but health literacy is another battle. In a health setting where most patients are covered by private insurance, patients have probably already researched their diagnosis and the conversation is how to improve management. However, we often encounter patients who are unaware of chronic conditions afflicting them. Our goals are to convince them of the severity of the condition and reduce the anxiety they have about the healthcare system before we can move to management. We are proud that we have improved so many patient lives.”

Mark Muex

Mark Muex – Patient, Community Advocate

You have heard the news around the surge of patient care in hospitals and the long waits in emergency departments. We recently visited our own ED and soon met a patient who was grateful, regardless of the delay. We spoke to Mark after he waited 15 hours in the ED for a room. He was seen for congestive heart failure and asthmatic COPD.

“This is the only hospital I use. I love the people here. I love to be where people I know are and I know nearly the whole staff from being here so much. Some of my family members have worked here too.

Some poor decisions I made in the past tore down my community. To make amends, I’m giving back. Now I’m involved with a group called Brothers EMpowered. Throughout the pandemic, we fed thousands of people. We give away gifts to our youth, like bikes and backpacks. We also have a clothing store in the Northtown Mall. I see and feel gratitude knowing that I’ve helped somebody.”

Arti Prasad

Arti Prasad, MD, FACP – Chair of Internal Medicine

“The most rewarding part of my job is to assist our providers and leaders succeed and to provide compassionate care to my patients. I like to mentor, support, and advance our faculty in their careers, clinical work, education, and research. My pleasure comes from other people’s success and patient outcomes. It’s an honor and privilege to be leading and supporting my team in all aspects of their work.

Not everyone sees the human side of me because they might only regard me as an administrator, the Chair of Internal Medicine. I too am a human who feels the same despair and frustration, especially given the situation we’re in as healthcare workers. But I’m grateful for my team every day, and that brings me joy.”

Becky Anderson

Becky Anderson, RN – Whittier Clinic

“We started vaccinating children ages 5-11 for COVID-19, so there’s a lot of excitement here. The parents are really happy – although the kids aren’t too happy about getting a shot. It’s a big deal for the parents to get their little ones vaccinated. It’s been a long time coming.

We’re serving and helping so many people with the vaccinations and preventing hospitalizations. Everyone seems really grateful for what we do here, and that’s nice to see.”

Clay Ahrens

Clay Ahrens – Patient, Father, Husband, Friend

“I’ve known about Hennepin Healthcare all my life since I worked as an executive with Allina Health, but I didn’t have any interaction until I was referred here with ALS in 2014. It’s patient-centered to the core, meaning that everyone on the team – a neurologist, PM&R doctor, pulmonary doctor, RN, PT, OT, nutritionist, speech pathologist, social worker, ALS chapter care coordinator, lab tech - visits me. It’s the best model I’ve seen.

The average life expectancy for ALS is 2-4 years, but I’m almost at eight years. I didn’t know if I’d see my kids graduate from high school. Seeing them both graduate and thrive in college has been a gratifying experience for me and my wife. I plan to be there for as many life events as I can. ALS teaches you not to take those for granted. I appreciate them that much more.”

Sam Maiser

Sam Maiser, MD – Neurology & Palliative Medicine

“The human brain is the most amazing thing I know, along with the love and compassion that we humans can give one another. I wanted to spend my time thinking about the brain and helping people affected by nervous system disorders. I specifically became interested in ALS because I found a lot of meaning being involved in people’s lives during the tender moments of their serious illness. I am grateful to be involved in many aspects of care – from the beginning to the end.

Sometimes people think palliative medicine means we only take care of patients who are dying. I like to help people with serious illness live their best life, so it’s not really a focus on them dying - it’s a focus on them living.”

Rebecca Anderson

Rebecca Anderson – Hennepin Healthcare Foundation Board Member

The path that led me to Hennepin Healthcare was serendipitous and like many good stories, started with a cup of coffee and an old friend. That friend happened to be Karin Vaccaro, Hennepin Healthcare’s music therapist. The conversation veered from pleasantries to the urgent task of raising money for the music therapy program.

Music therapy depends on the generosity of the community. When I saw the joy and healing that music therapy brought to its patients, I wanted to dig deeper into the patient experience at Hennepin Healthcare.”

Abby Khaleet

Abby Khaleet – Pharmacy Technician

“It’s so rewarding when we help patients and they come back and thank us for keeping them on top of their medications. Last week was pharmacy week and we had a couple patients pick up their medication and they took the time out of their day to thank us for what we do – for being so kind and caring. We are a constant for our patients and community. We help patients with many questions, whether it’s about medications, symptoms they have, or the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Anthony Gentile

Anthony Gentile, RN – Emergency Department

“The ER is like this great buffer zone for the hospital. If everything is functioning like it’s supposed to, you’ll only see emergencies here. With the surge, we are holding admits and handling inpatient care. We see increased social issues and low acuity when patients have difficulty accessing other care options. We’re always open.

We can also be a microcosm of society. You’ll know what’s happening in society by who is showing up in the ER and why. You feel you’re directly involved in the world’s issues because they spill in every day and you have to problem solve.”

Woubeshet Ayenew

Woubeshet Ayenew, MD – Cardiology

“I have two boys ages 9 and 12. We’re from Ethiopia and I wanted them to be raised bicultural and bilingual. Attractive bilingual children’s books were hard to find. That’s how I joined Ethiopia Reads - to help create picture books in both English and Amharic.

100 children storybooks later, I see great similarities in the skills I apply to create the children's stories and to be a cardiologist. The clarity you seek to engage a patient in managing a complex heart disease is the same skill that is needed when you are telling a child a story on bravery, empathy, or other lofty values. That connection helps achieve big ideas and goals.”

Bob Stiles

Bob Stiles – Dunn Brothers barista

“We have a constant influx of different people, whether it be patients, hospital staff, or visitors. Most stand-alone coffee shops get people from the neighborhood, but here, we see a mix of everybody from all over the city and I think that’s fascinating.

Some customers I know by name or drink. It’s good to talk to people and be compassionate. They’re here for all sorts of reasons. There are a couple ladies that come in and we talk about what books we’re reading. People appreciate a little bit of recognition like that.”

female volunteer smiling in front of board that says welcome

Mary Jorgensen – Volunteer, Simulation Center & Volunteer Office

“I started coming to Hennepin Healthcare in 1971 at the old general hospital when I had my son. The providers here have taken good care of me and all my medical needs. I wanted to return that favor.

Not being able to volunteer was an odd time. I felt like I was halfway here – laid off, but not unemployed. Returning has been busy because departments have been backed up, so I’m glad to come back and give any assistance they need. I missed doing something valuable for HCMC. The teams here did so much for me, so to pay that forward is beneficial for me.”