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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.

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.”

Jim Parkin

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

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.”

Mary Jorgensen

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.”

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