It's not uncommon for Mayo Clinic staff to go the extra mile for their patients. Michele Maharaj, however, went an extra 2,027 miles last month when she traveled from Mayo's Florida campus to the Grand Canyon for an "adventure hike" to raise money and awareness for multiple myeloma research. At her patient's request.
Bob McKenna sent an email last December about joining him on a fundraising hike he'd found on the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation website, Michele, a nurse at Mayo's Florida campus, tells us. He wanted to raise money and awareness for the cause, as a multiple myeloma patient himself. "The first one (he suggested) was to Mount Kilimanjaro, but I said, 'No, I can't do that one,'" Michele says. The second hike on Bob's list (the Grand Canyon) seemed more doable. "I said, 'I'd love to do that one, but let me think about it.'"
While Michele was contemplating, however, Bob's health deteriorated to the point where he was no longer able to do the hike. That settled it for Michele. "I told him, 'If this hike means that much to you, I'll do it,'" she says.
The first obstacle Michele and her husband, Vishnu – who offered to do the hike with her – had to overcome, was fundraising. That, Bob could do. "He did a lot of emailing for us," Michele says. "With Bob's help, we raised more than $11,000." Then came the training. "We were sent an eight- to 12-week training program, and I also worked out with a trainer one day a week," Michele says. "On the weekends, Vishnu and I also did nine- to 10-mile training hikes."
It paid off. "It was a hard hike, but we were prepared," she says. "We hiked Bright Angel Trail. It was more than four miles of switchback trails with a change in elevation of 3,800 feet. It took us three hours to get down, and five hours to get back up." In addition to "water, salty snacks, and emergency gear" they had another important piece of gear. "Vishnu and I brought a banner that had the names of several myeloma patients on it, including Bob's," Michele says. "We took a picture of ourselves holding the banner at the top of the canyon and then again at the bottom."
Leading up to the hike, Bob sent "several emails" to cheer on Michele and Vishnu, and to express his regret about not being able to join them. "When we were done, he sent another email that said, 'Thank you for doing this for all patients, and thank you for doing this for me,'" she says. Before leaving for Arizona, Michele did something herself to make sure Bob knew he'd be on their minds. "We were given team T-shirts before the hike, and I gave him one, because he should have been on that hike with us," she says. "He's part of our team."
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