In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

June 20, 2019

“Mayo Angels” Help Heal a Broken Heart

By In the Loop

When Troy Salonen learned he would need a second surgery to repair his heart, he and his wife traveled from North Dakota to Mayo Clinic, where they found a home away from home.

Troy and Roxane Salonen were celebrating. It had been a year since Troy had surgery to repair a leaky valve in his heart, and they were marking the milestone with dessert at the restaurant where one of their daughters worked. She delivered a slice of cake with a candle, along with a special message for her father written in chocolate sauce: "Thanks for not dying."

But the Salonens' celebration was short lived. Not long after that anniversary, Troy learned the valve was leaking again. "We found ourselves facing the shocking news, discovered in an annual checkup: The murmur that had set this whole thing in motion was back," writes Roxane, a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. "But this couldn't be right, right?" Additional testing would reveal that indeed it was. Not only that: Troy had developed hemolytic anemia, a condition in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than the body can replace them. "It was jarring," Roxane says. "Troy had never spent a single night in the hospital before the first surgery. He was relatively young and healthy."

Troy and Roxane were devastated and confused. But then, "something began to happen we can only understand as God's hand and an answer to prayer," she writes. "When it seemed clear the best place to solve the mystery would be at Mayo Clinic, where medical conundrums are a particular interest and passion, we updated our CaringBridge story, and within hours – in the middle of a sleepless night – read a startling an unexpected email: 'We are in Rochester waiting for you. Our house is your home during your stay.'"

The email came from a distant acquaintance who had moved with her husband from Fargo to Rochester. "I can't even tell you how it felt to get that message," Roxane says. She began calling the couple her "Mayo angels," writing that "they were the glimmer of light for which we longed." Through emails and phone calls, the angels "calmed me down, told me everything they knew about Mayo, and let me know Mayo was probably already assessing Troy's case," Roxane tells us. "It meant so much to know I'd have emotional support in Rochester."

The Salonens found support in other sources as well. "As people of faith, having Troy's surgery at Saint Marys was very reassuring," Roxane says. "What Mayo offered in the spiritual realm was meaningful to us. I had some beautiful moments in the chapel. I could feel the assurances of the Sisters. There is really something special and different about Mayo."

Cardiovascular surgeon Alberto Pochettino, M.D., also provided comfort. "Dr. Pochettino had heard that we have five kids and shared that he does as well," Roxane says. "I knew then that he understood there was a lot riding on the surgery. If something went wrong, it wasn't just Troy and me whose lives would have been affected. I knew we were in good hands."

On May 2, those hands repaired Troy's leaky valve. Six days later, he was released from the hospital and cleared to return home to North Dakota. But the Salonens decided to stay in Rochester a bit longer. "We spent one more night with our Mayo angels," Roxane says. "They created such a loving atmosphere for us. We now consider them our friends."

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Tags: Cardiovascular Surgery, Dr. Alberto Pochettino, Hemolytic anemia, leaky valve, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Patient Stories

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