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May 31, 2018

Heather Bird: From Transplant Patient to Mayo Clinic Transplant Nurse

By In the Loop

Heather Bird had planned to become a teacher. Instead, this summer she'll start her career as a nurse at Mayo Clinic, where she had a lifesaving liver transplant and was inspired by her care.    


Heather Bird was going to become an elementary school teacher. That was the plan. But Heather found that plan going by the wayside soon after she came to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus to undergo a liver transplant. "I have a rare blood disorder," Heather tells the Dickinson [North Dakota] Press. "I was diagnosed with a form of porphyria when I was 15." But, she continues, "Throughout the course of illness ... we realized I was misdiagnosed and I ended up with stage four cirrhosis of the liver at the age of 23."

That led to a transplant and an encounter with one member of her care team that stuck with her. It was a nurse who pushed Heather during her recovery, encouraging her to get up and start walking soon after the procedure. "I don't recall her name, at the time everything was pretty foggy," Heather tells the paper. "I struggled, I was like 'You seriously want me to get out of this bed and walk? Do you not realize my stomach's been cut open, I have all these staples?'"

But the paper reports "it was precisely that push" that Heather needed to help her recover from the transplant quickly. It also made her see just how important nurses are to a patient's overall care. Before leaving the hospital, Heather realized that she, too, wanted to have that kind of impact, and she made the decision to become a nurse. "I've had excellent doctors ... but it's the nurses who are with their patients, they are the ones who are with them all day, every day," she tells the paper. "When you're most vulnerable in those situations, you're going to need that assistance."

In July, Heather will become the one giving that assistance to patients when she begins her nursing career at Mayo Clinic. And she'll be able to relate to her patients on a very personal level. She'll be working on the same floor where she received her lifesaving liver transplant.

Heather tells the Dickinson Press she's willing to do whatever it takes to help take care of her patients, even before she starts her new role. She's already participating in research studies so her new Mayo colleagues can study her medical condition in greater detail. "I'm the only person at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester who they have transplanted with my blood disorder," she tells the paper. "They've done some research studies, and I've said I'll be part of it. … Hopefully they can learn from what I've been through to be able to help that next person."

Spoken like a true nurse. Welcome to the Mayo family, Heather.

You can read the rest of Heather's story here. Then show us you care by sharing your comments below before using the handy social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.


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Tags: cirrhosis, Heather Bird, liver transplant, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Nursing, Patient Stories, porphyria

Very Impressive. I am so glad the Mayo is working to find young minds to be a part of there clinic. I so think that personal connection with the healthcare providers is important. Look at how Heathers life has been changed. By those giving her wonder full care encouraging her to move forward. To not give up. To push threw the paint. Sometimes we just have to do that. Push threw the pain to get to the sweet spot of success

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