In the Loop

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March 7th, 2017

Falcon Visit is Good Medicine for Patient With Cancer

By In the Loop

Recently, staff at Mayo Clinic worked together to help a patient cross an item off her birding “life list” by arranging a visit with a peregrine falcon.

A few weeks ago, Allison Hesse received an unusual request from a nurse on the oncology unit she manages at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus Rochester campus. The nurse told Hesse about one of her patients, an avid bird watcher. Like many birders, this patient kept a life list of the birds she'd seen. Not yet on that list: a peregrine falcon. The patient was fascinated by Mayo Clinic's Peregrine Falcon Program, the nurse told Hesse, and had been closely watching a feed of Mayo's falcon cam during her month-long hospital stay. Would it be possible, the nurse wondered, to arrange for the patient to see a falcon in person? Hesse said she'd see what she could do.

She began by sending an email to Tom Behrens, the longtime manager of Mayo's falcon program, to explain the situation. Behrens responded quickly and told Hesse the request came at the perfect time. A representative from the Midwest Peregrine Society was planning a trip to Rochester, and Behrens said he'd ask if she could bring a falcon along to meet the patient. She agreed, and the plan for a visit took flight.

"The patient couldn't believe it when we told her," Hesse says. "She was so excited. She got a new fancy headscarf for the meeting." And though she hadn't walked much in weeks, on the day of the visit the patient refused the wheelchair Hesse offered to transport her to the falcon. "She insisted on walking," Hesse says. "And she stood for the entire visit, which lasted probably 20 minutes." The patient and her daughter (also a birder) took pictures and got to watch the falcon, named Penny for the copper-colored feathers on her chest, have a snack. They were also given a small, plush falcon toy to help them remember the visit.

The meeting with Penny was "a great motivation and distraction" for the patient, Hesse tells us. And sometimes, that's the best kind of medicine she and her colleagues can offer. "We listen to our patients' stories so we can learn their hopes and dreams, and individualize their care," Hesse says. Sometimes, that means arranging a visit with a falcon. Other times, its coordinating anniversary dinners or birthday celebrations, or tracking down photos of a patient's favorite vacation destination. Those are all things Hesse and her staff have done for their patients, gestures she says are "small things done with great love."

But those small gestures have a big purpose. "We try to find ways to remind people that there is more to life than their hospital room," Hesse says, "and that we want them to get well and get back to their hopes and dreams."

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Tags: Allison Hesse, Employee Stories, Peregrine Falcon Program, Tom Behrens

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