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.

Joe Skinner

Joe Skinner – Surgical Aide

“I enjoy the challenge of serving the mission of Hennepin Healthcare every day. No two days are alike. We do tons more with fewer resources than other hospitals. It’s rewarding when I see a patient a year or two after a surgery at an event like a festival or the fair. Sometimes they walk up to you and thank you for helping them walk or get well again. At your neediest time, we can put you back together.”

Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell, RN – Clincal Care Supervisor, Emergency Department

“You can’t make up or predict the cases that come through the emergency department doors. Every day is different. Often times, we care for patients and family members who are in crisis and experiencing the worst moments of their lives. Whether it’s a traumatic car accident, gunshot wound, or a loved one having a stroke, ED and EMS staff are ready at the first stages of care. Prior to working in the ED, all my experience was in the intensive care unit and surgical intensive care unit. The change has been eye-opening for me. It has broadened my appreciation for the work we do across the continuum. I find the work intense and meaningful.

We have a strong, world-class emergency department. I believe that to truly understand or appreciate what happens down here requires seeing it for yourself. The past few years have been challenging for all of us. The pandemic and critical staffing shortages have had a direct effect on the department – extended patient stays, higher patient census and increased violence. Despite these challenges, I am grateful to be part of a team that has worked tirelessly with perseverance and resolve.”

Ellen Otto

Ellen Otto – Job Coach, Merrick Inc.

“I’m a job coach for a team of four cognitively disabled folks who take care of all the recycling for Hennepin Healthcare. When I looked around the hospital and saw how diverse and inclusive it was here, I knew my team was going to be accepted. I’m a teacher and a supervisor to them, but I’m also opening people’s eyes around here to the disabled. It’s been a teaching moment for employees and the public.

My team loves coming to work because they’ve made friends here. The best thing is when I see my team interacting with other departments. It brings me joy. If I’m having a bad day, all I need to do is look at my team. It’s the little things that matter. It’s rewarding for me to see them gain independence every day. I can back off and they can do their thing. That means something to them too.”

Lynette Santos

Lynette Santos – Patient Services Coordinator, East Lake Clinic

“In the late 80s, my mom had an injury – 83 percent of her body was burned. She stayed in the burn unit at Hennepin Healthcare for about three months. I was 3 years old. I can vividly describe everything that happened that day. Knowing that my mom was at Hennepin Healthcare and receiving amazing treatment was a comfort. We’re originally from Cuba, so having an interpreter always there to explain what was happening to me and my siblings is something I’ll always remember. As I got older and learned more about the medical field, it became my passion. When I had the opportunity to work at Hennepin Healthcare, I immediately took it on – I wanted to give back to the place that saved my mother’s life. That’s something special I hold.

It's rewarding to me to get to know staff and patients as individuals. My team has seen me go through major life changes. Outside of work, they’ll check on me and I do the same for them. It’s a blessing to support each other.”

Margaret Sweeney

Margaret Sweeney – Interpreter

“It’s a privilege to accompany people in their most vulnerable times. We bear witness to births, deaths, and everything in between. It's a cost and a gift to experience what other people are going through. We celebrate with the family when a patient starts breathing on their own, and we mourn with them if they die.

Interpreting is not as simple as translating. We listen for the intent behind the words and pinpoint any lack of understanding between the patient and provider. We serve as a cultural liaison. It’s a lot of advocating for patients. We’re a bridge between them and the hospital. Because we’re in the appointments with patients, we can take their point of view back to Hennepin Healthcare. It’s an opportunity to speak out and improve the care we provide.”

Tony Tuttle

Tony Tuttle – Welcome Services

“Welcome Services isn’t a department many people think of when going to the hospital. We’re not providing healthcare, but providing a ride home is a big deal to our patients. It’s rewarding when we can leave them with a warm hand off.

With so many different people coming into the hospital, you need to take everything with a grain of salt. There’s a bigger cause behind someone’s frustration or impatience. It’s not personal. They could be sick or trying to visit a loved one who is. That’s a high stress situation to be in, and they might take it out on you. We show kindness and understanding and focus on problem solving. We can make our interactions an enjoyable experience within someone’s bad circumstances.”

Tamara Shewmaker

Tamara Shewmaker, RN – Clinic Supervisor, Richfield Clinic

“I love that people here have so many different backgrounds. You meet people from all over with different life experiences and perspectives that have broadened my world view. I like sharing stories with each other. You get to know what’s going on with your colleagues and their families, or how they are handling different things going on in their life. In addition to being a co-worker and friend, you can also be a mentor for people.

I really think that our work is super important in this community. They really depend on us to be here and show up. We do so much more than provide medical care. We provide social care, mental healthcare, spiritual care. I feel proud to work here.”

Sam Pace

Samantha Pace, MD – OBGYN

“I’ve always had a strong interest in global medicine, and there’s nothing more locally global than Hennepin Healthcare. Lately, I’ve been caring for a lot of Afghani refugees, many of whom are pregnant or post-partum. Knowing the circumstances in which they fled Afghanistan and escaped the Taliban – so many of them have lost everything and came here with nothing. I did work in Afghanistan in 2014 in an area where some of the refugees are coming from, so I have a little bit of cultural understanding. I took care of this woman who stayed on the Kabul airstrip for three days with her five kids, waiting to escape. She had to leave all of her family members behind. And she’s pregnant. I’ve had patients who want to tell me what they’ve been through and don’t hesitate to launch into their stories. Sometimes, the interpreters come from the same area and pitch in their stories. It almost becomes a storytelling session, which I hope is therapeutic.

It takes a huge amount of humility to gain patient trust. I try to make our appointments a safe environment to ask questions and I’m open to the answers. It’s all about providing safe space, time and compassionate listening.”

Mike Connolly

Mike Connolly – IT Manager

“My team is awesome. They’re understanding inside and outside of our circle about the emotional, and at times physical, toll that we’ve all been dealing with for the past couple of years. That approach has created more understanding and gratitude within the IS&T team and Hennepin Healthcare overall. They’re engaged, open and honest. They’re willing to have frank discussions about any topic from technical to some of the DEI race and relationship work IS&T has been doing. They’re not employees, they are people I work with and admire.

The relationship development in our team is much more important to me than our set of tasks to complete. What’s important to me is the people, the development, the growth, the inclusion, and the sense of belonging. My focus for work, my home life, and my friends is to help and support people wherever I can.”

Shanika James Humans Of Hennepin

Shanika James – Medical Student Coordinator

"I love my job. I take pride that I'm a part of medical students' accomplishments. I see them grow from coming to Hennepin Healthcare to observe, completing their medical rotations, applying for residency, and some becoming a physician here. Knowing that I had a place in their journey by coordinating their rotations is extremely rewarding to me.

I think it's important to gain the trust of my medical students. That helps them feel comfortable opening up, venting and expressing their true feelings to me. Since I've taken on this role, I've encountered medical students dealing with anxiety, fear, panic and stress. Some have given up practicing medicine and a few have even taken their lives. That's why I encourage them to contact me at any time. I tell all the students that I am a phone call away and will be there for them under any circumstance.
My biggest advice for those who interact with medical students is to become a listener. Be patient with them. Sympathize with them. Give them encouraging words because life is not always easy."

Danielle Becker

Danielle Becker – Library Supervisor

“We are redesigning the library right now. It’ll provide more seating space and independent study spots. We’re hoping that once things open a little more, we can have author readings and events. The library a great place to sit down, read, and catch your breath. We can help you with your research and help you find articles or books – and not necessarily medical, we do a lot of other research too.

Almost every single day, I get a thank you from someone, whether it’s a patient or a physician. It’s great when someone appreciates our work. We live for helping people – that’s why we’re here.”

Mike Ramos

Mike Ramos – Security Supervisor

“We have a very diverse clientele from every race, sexuality, orientation, lifestyle, everything. Being from small town Minnesota, I wasn’t exposed to a lot of that growing up. I enjoy learning about everything that anyone has to offer. It’s great to talk to a man who has lived here his whole life and then two minutes later, a woman who just moved here from Africa and has a different outlook on life. It’s experiencing everyone else’s culture without having to travel around the world.

The first people you see when you walk into the ED door is the security officers. We have to start that human connection at the door because chances are, the person walking through the door isn’t having the best day. We can’t heal their loved ones, but we can make it easier for the rest of the team to make their day better. It can be as simple as getting them a glass of water and helping figure out where their loved one is. Everyone that walks through Hennepin Healthcare has emotions and a broad set of different cultural beliefs and ethnic beliefs, so it’s crucial for us to make that human connection.”

Tiffany Begin

Tiffany Begin – Accounting Associate Principal

“I support the point-of-sale locations throughout Hennepin Healthcare. That includes the onsite and offsite pharmacies, cafeteria, parking and the clinics. I collect, count, verify, deposit, and reconcile. It can be challenging to move financial transactions in and out of the hospital and keep everything flowing smoothly for patients and staff.

Even though my teammates and I aren’t medical staff, we’re needed so that the providers can serve our community. A hospital can’t function without a team managing funds. I’m grateful for the people we help – from the clinics, to the cafeteria, to the Foundation.”

Saed Yusuf

Saed Yusuf, RN, BSN – Clinical Care Supervisor, STNU

“Hennepin Healthcare gave me so many opportunities. From my first day, I could see my future here. Before I started, I was the assistant manager of the Purple parking garage. Then I did some training and worked with EMS and then phlebotomy. I felt called to nursing and took classes while I had full-time work and a full-time family. Everybody along the way was motivating me and telling me ‘You belong here. You can do this.’ They lifted me up. That’s why I’m here. It takes a team to lead this unit and give exceptional care without exception.

The way I grew up also helped me. I’m from the Middle East and lived in Somalia. My family left Somalia when I was 7 because of the civil war. We fled to Yemen and lived in a refugee camp for 10 years. Throughout the years in the camp, I volunteered in the refugee clinic to help the medical team who provided care to all refugee patients. I helped with interpreting, assisted in the lab and in the surgery unit, and worked closely with tuberculosis patients. I learned so much in that time. Imagine being a 7-year-old boy with hardships coming into a refugee camp in a different country. That experience gave me resiliency and determination to overcome obstacles and barriers, and it also shaped my future as a healthcare provider.”

Liza Anderson Gonzalez

Liza Anderson-Gonzalez, NP – Comprehensive Weight Management Clinic

“Nursing is how I give back to my community. I act as different roles in my position – I’m a coach, advocate and teacher in order to help patients improve their health. I’ve also worked in many different positions for Hennepin Healthcare – a nursing assistant, a nurse, a supervisor, and now a medical provider, so I’ve been around the full circle of what the organization has to offer. I’ve enjoyed helping our community and my co-workers in different realms.

What’s most rewarding to me is to participate in people’s success. It’s not just weight loss on a scale – it’s feeling better, being able to move more, and having a positive outlook on life. That’s special. There’s confidence and camaraderie between the staff, and there’s respect between the patients and providers. I’m grateful for that.”

Dominic In The Patient Chair 2

Dominic Ciresi – Foundation Board Member

“Before COVID-19, Board members toured different departments. Every time we did a tour, I had an ‘aha’ moment. For example, when we toured the Delta Dental clinic, my ‘aha’ moment was that kids who are autistic have an immensely hard time finding a dentist. Hennepin Healthcare is one of the only places they can get dental care. It never occurred to me. I told my friends who have autistic children, and it changed the way they go to the dentist. Every time I visit, I’m amazed at the depth and breadth of everything that is done at Hennepin Healthcare.

I think our biggest challenge and opportunity is to spread the word of Hennepin Healthcare – what we do, how we do it, and how well we do it. For this year and years to come, my goal is to get the community philanthropically involved with Hennepin Healthcare, especially the business community.”

Mariela Ardemagni Tollin

Mariela Ardemagni-Tollin – Community Health, East Lake Clinic

“Being an immigrant, I have a soft spot for people who may not have all the benefits and resources that they need. For example, if someone has diabetes and doesn’t have a home, it’s difficult to keep insulin in the fridge. Or maybe they don’t have enough food on the table or transportation to go to their appointments. I try to ease that path for our patients. Five minutes of my time could be a world to them. The most satisfying feeling is helping our patients have one less worry. I’m grateful that I can find a resource for them. The East Lake Clinic is a special place because we have that willingness to go the extra mile.

Opening our new space was like a big check mark after what we went through when the other clinic was destroyed. It was so devastating to see. We couldn’t salvage anything. We are very grateful for Whittier opening their doors to us so we could continue providing services. The day we opened our doors for the first appointments was a steppingstone we’ll never forget. We went through so much, but we made it. We got to the finish line.”

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.

stuffed animal called the 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.”