When the elevator doors parted, two new passengers joined the group traveling between floors in the Gonda Building on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. They appeared to be father and son. "We've had a lot of appointments today," the man said to the boy, who sat in a wheelchair, seemingly unable to speak. The man continued addressing the child, talking him through their day together and weighing lunch options in a one-sided conversation that communicated volumes to those sharing the elevator. "The interchange was so honoring of the little boy and so noble of the father," Joanne Jackson Yelenik says. "The spirit of Mayo was in that interchange, to retain a sense of the noble and choose kindness in the face of the impossible. I think everyone in the elevator was moved."
The "spirit of Mayo" is something Jackson Yelenik, a history teacher from Israel, tells us she's observed and experienced many times since becoming a Mayo patient in 1995. She's seen it in her doctors, including orthopedic surgeon Shawn O'Driscoll, M.D., Ph.D., who she says possesses the "magic combination" of qualities she believes make Mayo Clinic unique: an ability to provide "tremendous clarity on medical issues" while also focusing on "how you live and how your medical problem affects your life."
Case in point: Knowing that Jackson Yelenik is Jewish, Dr. O'Driscoll scheduled her surgery so that she would be comfortable by the Jewish Sabbath, which begins each Friday evening. But when a complication arose, necessitating another procedure before the Sabbath ended, "Dr. O'Driscoll told me the procedure was essential for my healing, but that it was a tough call for him to make," Jackson Yelenik tells us. "He knew what the Sabbath meant to me, and so his decision was not just a medical one. That's the Mayo way."
To Jackson Yelenik, the Mayo way emphasizes compassion, empathy and kindness — the "simple values and virtues" that are part of the Mayo brothers' legacy. She believes the institution's founders understood people's need "to be respected, comfortable and honored for who they are. All these things that seem so obvious but are so often called into question in our own times," Jackson Yelenik says. "At Mayo, the people who deliver care make it a very human experience."
As do the volunteers who support that care. Recently, after a long day of appointments, Jackson Yelenik sat in a lobby, waiting for a friend to pick her up. A volunteer at a nearby information desk caught her eye and smiled. Then the volunteer walked over and sat next to her. "She asked how my day was," Jackson Yelenik tells us. That question led to another, and soon the two were deep in conversation. "There was so much empathy in her gesture," Jackson Yelenik says. "She didn't need to come sit next to me. There was no reason for it but kindness. At Mayo, everything is a serenade to what human beings can accomplish."
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