Years After Craniosynostosis Surgery, Mayo Clinic Patient Becomes Mayo Employee

Tricia Mueller's first experience at Mayo was as a 3-month-old who needed major surgery. Today she's on the other end of care, at times sharing her story with patients so they know they're not alone.

Looking at her today, you'd never know all that Tricia Mueller endured just a few months after entering this world. It was 1990 when a care team at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, led by now-retired plastic and neurological surgeons Ricky Clay, M.D., and Michael Ebersold, M.D., wheeled 3-month-old Tricia into an operating room at Mayo Clinic Hospital for an invasive surgery that would correct the craniosynostosis she'd been born with. "They made an incision from ear to ear," Tricia's mom, Sandy Burke, tells us. "They cut away bone in her skull, removed her forehead, reshaped it, and then put everything back together."

A frightening surgery for anyone, to be sure, let alone when it's your baby. But Sandy tells us it was necessary at the time to correct the premature closing of Tricia's skull that had occurred in utero before her brain had time to fully form. "Her head was misshapen because even though her skull plates had closed prematurely, her brain had continued to grow," Sandy, a registered nurse in Mayo Clinic's Vascular Center in Rochester, says. "Her surgical team had to reshape her skull and then put screws in her forehead to hold it all together."

Which, 28 years later, Tricia tells us sounds worse than it is. "I don't remember any of it — just what my mom has told me and what I've seen from pictures," she says. "Aside from my scar, the only physical reminder I have is a small soft spot on my head, a few bumps, and I can still feel the screws. But my hair covers everything now so if I don't specifically mention it or point it out to people, they have no idea."

Though few and far between, some of the people who do know Tricia's story are the fellow craniosynostosis patients she encounters at her job at Mayo Clinic. "I've seen young patients who have had the same diagnosis, but it's pretty rare," she says. "It does help to create a stronger bond between us because I can tell and show them that I've gone through the same thing, too," says Tricia, now a dental assistant in Mayo's Department of Dental Specialties. "My own patient experience at Mayo Clinic has definitely helped instill more compassion and empathy for what our patients are going through themselves, regardless of whether we can see it for ourselves."

You can read more about craniosynostosis care at Mayo Clinic, and how it's changed since Tricia was a patient, here. Then send us a few words by sharing your comments below before using the handy social media tools to share this story with others.