In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

November 3, 2016

Doctors Dance With Patient at Her Wedding, 17 Years After Saving Her Life

By In the Loop
When Stefani Thompson was just 8 years old, she had a heart transplant at Mayo Clinic. In the years since, she’s remained close to the care team that helped save her life. They’ve celebrated many milestones together, including, most recently Stefani’s wedding.

Photo courtesy of Shannon Scott Photography.

Stefani and Trevan Thompson's wedding reception was like many others. There was the couple's first dance and the traditional father-daughter dance, which featured a cut-in from the bride's grandfather. And then there was the doctor-patient dance. Or, in this case, the doctor-doctor-doctor-doctor-patient dance — where the bride busts a move with the people who helped save her life 17 years earlier.

The sweet story behind that dance starts when the bride was just 8 years old. She'd come to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus after a virus damaged her heart, and for a time, it looked like she might not survive. But one September day back in 1999, a heart transplant restored Stefani to life. In the years since, she's achieved milestone after milestone, from attending prom (where she had another memorable dance with one of her doctors) to graduating from college and becoming a pediatric nurse herself.

Stefani and Trevan Thompson

Photo courtesy of Shannon Scott Photography.

While her parents have no doubt been the proudest observers of these milestones, another group has been cheering her on as well: the Mayo Clinic doctors, nurses and other staff who have grown close to Stefani and her family over the years. Because of the transplant, Stefani and her family have returned to Mayo at least once a year for checkups. And when she needed a second transplant after anti-rejection medications took a toll on her kidneys, the family again turned to Mayo.

So when it came time to send out wedding invitations, the guest list included cardiac surgeons Joseph Dearani, M.D., and Richard Daly, M.D., and cardiologists Martha Grogan, M.D., and Michael Ackerman, M.D., Ph.D. Stefani tells us she hardly dared hope any of them would make the long trip to Michigan for the wedding. But on her wedding day, as she said her "I dos" on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, all four doctors were in attendance. "It was amazing to have them witness my life that is able to go on because of their help," she says. "I feel so spoiled that they came. How did I get to be so lucky?"

But if you ask Stefani's doctors, they'll tell you they're the lucky ones. "We celebrate our patients' ups and downs, but it was a very unique experience to actually be there for a moment like this," Dr. Grogan says, adding that it felt almost as though her own daughter was getting married. "I was not going to miss that wedding. It was an honor to be invited and so amazing to be able to be there."

"I suspect that we all felt love-bound (not duty-bound) to be there," says Dr. Ackerman, who calls the wedding "one of those incredibly special moments in all of our careers."

Which brings us back to another special moment: the one on the dance floor. No one can quite remember who requested the song, but everyone agrees it was the perfect choice. While Robert Palmer sang "Doctor, doctor, give me the news," and the guests clapped and cheered, each physician took a turn dancing with Stefani. While Dr. Ackerman says his moves may not have been perfect, for him the dance "was a few minutes of pure bliss where EVERYTHING was right and beautiful in the world." Near the end of the song, all five joined hands and danced together in a circle, celebrating not just a marriage, but a life.

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Tags: Dr. Joseph Dearani, Dr. Martha Grogan, Dr. Michael Ackerman, Dr. Richard Daly, heart transplant, Patient Stories, Pediatric Heart Transplant Program

Dr. Dearani saved my son’s life as well, with an emergency open heart surgery a few hours after he was born and diagnosed with Total Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return. A few years later he operated on my adult cousin’s heart for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Needless to say, he’s a pretty important guy in our lives! Max is a happy, healthy 13-year-old boy thanks to Dr. Dearani and the whole team who has cared for Max over the years, from cardiologist Dr. Cabalka to pediatrician Dr. Homme to all the nurses and specialists who do amazing things for babies and kids every day. I’m really happy to see articles like this honoring them! One in 110 babies are born with a heart defect, and need heroes like these.


Val, I was excited to read the update on Max. I remember well the day he was born 13 years ago. I was the nurse in the Intermediate Special Care Nursery who knew he had a major problem with his heart.
Give him a big hug from me!
❤️Beth Herman


I remember you too Beth! We are forever grateful — how to say how much? There are not enough words. We are so fortunate he was born at a place the likes of Mayo Clinic with people such as yourself around him.


Thanks Val. I have taken care of sick babies for my entire 42 years of nursing. During that time there are special babies and families I will always remember, Max is one of those babies. Blessings.


I kept wiping off those tears coming out of my eyes as I read through this lovely story. My best wishes to Stefani! Mayo doctors not only bring hope and healing to patients, but they also touch every patient’s heart with their compassion and caring thoughts. They are the best!

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