In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

July 26, 2018

Surprise Graduation Party for Patient Transitioning to New Life

By In the Loop

Instead of walking the stage to receive her college degree, Alisha Valles was recovering in the hospital. But her nurses weren't going to let the milestone pass without a proper celebration.

Alisha Valles had completed her final exams for degrees in economics and computer science from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. But a few days later, instead of walking the stage with the other members of the class of 2018, Alisha was lying in a hospital bed, recovering from a vaginoplasty. "I joked that it was my graduation present," Alisha tells us.

Missing the pomp and circumstance was no joke to Alisha's care team at the Transgender and Intersex Specialty Care Clinic at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. "I knew how much work she had put in," Gwenyn Anderson says. "We needed to celebrate this accomplishment." So Anderson, one of Alisha's nurses, went into party-planning mode.

The next morning, after signing well-wishes on a graduation card, Anderson and her colleagues entered Alisha's room with balloons, banners and gifts. "I was shocked," Alisha tells us. "It meant a lot to me. Despite only knowing me for a couple of days, they really truly cared about me as a patient and a person. The card is a literal treasure that I will never lose or get rid of."

Knowing the impact the gesture had on Alisha means a great deal to Anderson. "It's moments like this that I love and live for: to see the joy on the faces of my patients," she tells us.

Shannon Dalbey, Anderson's colleague and fellow nurse, agrees. "The look on Alisha's face when we surprised her is a memory I smile over," Dalbey says. "Every single patient is so unique with their own story and deserves to feel recognized and special." Being able to do this is "a matter of listening to patients to truly understand their needs," she tells us. "I've found the physical aspect is the tip of the iceberg." Dalbey believes that meeting "the mental, social, and emotional needs that lie beneath the surface are truly what take great care to exceptional care. You never know how even the smallest things can be so impactful."

Dalbey tells us she's "humbled" to hear how much this small act meant to Alisha.

"This was easily the kindest gesture anybody that I've only known for a short time has done for me, and I'm treasuring this moment for the rest of my life," Alisha says. It's a life she's looking forward to starting. "Surgery corrected a mismatch between my mind and body," she tells us. "Now my body lines up with what my soul wants it to be."

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Tags: Gwenyn Anderson, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Patient Stories, Practice story, Shannon Dalbey, Transgender and Intersex Specialty Care Clinic, vaginoplasty

Congratulations Alisha on your graduation and new life’s journey! What a special group of people doing this for you! ❤️

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