Naomi Loukinen has had a rough couple of months. As one member of her care team, Jessica Henkin, put it: If something could go wrong during Naomi’s treatment for cholangiocarcinoma, it did. “She’s had complication after complication,” Henkin, a physician assistant at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus, tells us. Complications that included “various infections” and “fluid buildup,” which led to “prolonged stays” in the intensive care unit at Mayo Clinic Hospital’s Saint Marys campus. Henkin and other members of Naomi’s care team have had to deploy “remarkable efforts” just to keep her alive.
But even when Naomi’s condition had finally stabilized, Henkin tells us the emotional strain those rough patches placed upon her was clear. “Her spirit had completely died,” Henkin says. After having grown close to Naomi and her husband, Bob, throughout Naomi’s stay at Saint Marys, Henkin and the rest of Naomi’s care team hated seeing her in that kind of emotional distress.
So, knowing Naomi would be spending her upcoming 81st birthday in the hospital, her care team came together to throw her a surprise birthday party, complete with “a large and colorful handcrafted ‘Happy Birthday’ banner, a huge balloon,” and perhaps most important, “a birthday cupcake, chocolate pudding, and Key lime mousse,” both Henkin and Michelle Haag, a nurse practitioner, tell us.
They also arranged for Mayo Clinic Radiology Tech-slash-magician Joe Swicklik to provide some entertainment at the party. Despite having “a busy day downtown,” Joe gave up his lunch break in order to perform a magic show just for Naomi and Bob. And as she watched Swicklik perform, we’re told Naomi did something that she hadn’t done throughout much of her hospitalization: smile. “I hadn’t seen her smile like that in over a month,” Haag says.
Naomi tells us “just knowing they cared” enough to do all of this for her on her birthday meant the world to her and Bob. “The magic show and party were both very exciting,” she tells us. “I didn’t expect any of it. Everyone at Mayo Clinic has been really good to me.”
We have more good news to report. Another member of Naomi’s care team, surgical resident Ryan Antiel, M.D., tells us that a few days after her party, Naomi’s condition improved enough for her and Bob to return home to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. And while her care team may have played a role in that, Dr. Antiel tells us Naomi’s turnaround is also due to the care of someone else close to her. “An awful lot of credit goes to Mr. Loukinen, as well,” Dr. Antiel says. “It was not infrequent that I’d leave the hospital late at night and come back early in the morning and he’d still be there, sitting by her side.”
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