Transplant Patient’s Mother Becomes Mayo Volunteer

Kim Van Roekel is no stranger to Mayo Clinic. She’s spent more than a year in Rochester awaiting a heart transplant for her daughter, Becca, and volunteering her time at her home away from home.

Kim Van Roekel sat at her sewing machine, creating beautiful table runners and festive bowl cozies. Her work caught the attention of more than a few passersby. After all, it's not every day you see a seamstress in a hospital room. But that room is the place Kim's daughter, Becca Imhoff, calls home while she awaits a heart transplant at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. So it's become a home to Kim, too. Sewing machine and all.

"I have to stay busy or my mind doesn't stop," Kim tells us. The sewing projects have helped keep her mind (and hands) occupied. Puzzles have provided another welcome distraction since she and Becca arrived in Rochester. "At first I was putting puzzles together like crazy," Kim says. "I even had the nurses bringing me puzzles."

Kim and Becca's journey to Mayo Clinic began more than 30 years ago, when Becca was born with a rare congenital heart defect, dextrocardia with situs inversus. By the time she was in her early 30s, she'd undergone six open heart surgeries. In 2014, she learned she was in heart failure and would need yet another procedure — this one to replace her ailing heart. Doctors in the family's home state of Iowa recommended Becca come to Mayo Clinic for the transplant. She arrived in August 2017; her mother soon followed, renting an apartment in Rochester a few months later.

By the spring of 2018, sewing and puzzles were no longer quite enough to keep Kim busy. So she decided to go back to work — sort of. She'd been a manager at a retail store before leaving Iowa, and decided to put her experience to good use by becoming a volunteer in the Sisters Crossing Gift Shop at Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus. She's there every Thursday morning and on standby to cover shifts on short notice. "I missed being with people," Kim says. The volunteer gig has helped heal that ache. "I've made friends through the gift shop," Kim tells us. "It's nice to have someone to go have coffee with."

But Kim has done more than just make friends. She's also made a difference at a place that has come to mean a great deal to her. "It feels good to be able to give back to Mayo," Kim tells us. "It makes your heart feel good."

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