Retired Physician Puts Health in Hands of His Student — Four Decades Later

When he was a staff physician at Mayo Clinic, Don Scholz, M.D., supervised many new physicians. Four decades later, one of those students became his doctor.

Don Scholz, M.D., supervised many resident physicians while he was on staff at Mayo Clinic. Nearly forty years later, Dr. Scholz needed treatment for a leaking heart valve and found himself in the care of a former student.  

When Don Scholz, M.D., began experiencing shortness of breath, he made an appointment with his cardiologist and learned the heart valve he'd had replaced a few years back had started to leak. Because of his age — he was 95 at the time — open heart surgery to repair the leak was out of the question. Treating the problem with medication was an option, but one that "would have curtailed my activities," Dr. Scholz tells us. "I was heading for heart failure and a rocking chair." And Dr. Scholz, as those who know him can attest, is not rocking chair material.

So when his cardiologist suggested another possible treatment option, transcatheter aortic valve replacement (TAVR), Dr. Scholz was interested. The procedure, he learned, is a good option for some high-risk patients. Dr. Scholz decided to find out if he might be one of them, and was referred to an interventional cardiologist for evaluation.

Which is how Dr. Scholz came to find himself face-to-face with someone he'd evaluated many years before. Close to 40 years before, in fact. Back then, John Bresnahan, M.D., was a newly minted doctor completing a residency at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Scholz was one of his supervising physicians. "I thought, 'Holy smokes, it's John Bresnahan,'" Dr. Scholz tells us. "I knew he'd been on my service, but I couldn't remember when." (A quick check of his diary later revealed it was May 1978.)

Dr. Bresnahan admits it's "always a little strange" to have a former mentor as a patient. But he "was all business" during the appointment, Dr. Scholz tells us. He explained the procedure and confirmed Dr. Scholz was indeed a candidate. "The force is strong in him," Dr. Bresnahan says of Dr. Scholz. "He's got the energy of a 30-year-old." And that energy was on full display after the procedure. "He was out of the hospital the next day," Dr. Bresnahan says, adding that it was "quite a feat for a 95-year-old."

And Dr. Scholz — now 96 — shows no signs of slowing down. He's a volunteer at Mayo Clinic, working weekly stints at the information desk in the Gonda Subway. (Thursday afternoons, if you want to stop for a visit.) He's actively involved with Mayo's peregrine falcon program, and was honored a few years ago when one of the fledglings was named "Scholzy" after him. He's also an avid photographer, a Rotarian and one of a dozen Mayo emeritus staff, most at least well into their 80s, who meet each week for lunch.

"I love life and the wonderful people around me," Dr. Scholz says. He also delights in the little moments that keep life interesting. Moments like the one where you discover that your former student is now your doctor. "If I'd have known John Bresnahan was going to be passing the catheter in me someday," Dr. Scholz jokes, "I'd have given him a much better grade."

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