Florida Women Get By With a Little Help From Their Friendship (and Mayo Clinic)

Lisa Kosak and Jan Chnupa met by chance on Mayo Clinic's Florida campus, but the two became fast friends and now offer each other support as they face chronic health conditions.

Lisa Kosak was having dinner at the Marriott hotel on Mayo Clinic's Florida campus when she overheard another diner tell the wait staff that she was from Vero Beach. "Hey," she said to the woman, Jan Chnupa, "I'm from Vero Beach, too!" The women chatted, exchanged telephone numbers on cocktail napkins, and vowed to keep in touch. Then life got in the way, and neither followed up on those good intentions. But three months later, back at the Marriott and Mayo, Lisa heard a familiar voice behind her: Jan's. "It could have been 20 seconds either way and we would have missed each other," Lisa says.

Instead, she and Jan reconnected and have become "fast friends." They chat on the phone, spend weekends together and have gotten to know each other's families. When possible, they even schedule their appointments at the same time and road trip to Jacksonville together. "We get time to talk in the car, we go out to dinner while we're there," Lisa says. "We've become a support system for each other." That support is a treasured aspect of their friendship. "Lisa has a firsthand appreciation for what I go through," Jan tells us. "She gets it."

What both Lisa and Jan get is what it's like to go through life with chronic health conditions. For Lisa, it's Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency." She was diagnosed with the disorder, which can cause severe liver and lung problems, in 2007. "At 40, I was playing softball. At 42, I was on oxygen 24/7," Lisa says. She was living in Colorado at the time, and the elevation made her breathing more difficult. That's when she moved to Florida and became a Mayo patient. "I grew up in Minnesota, and for us Mayo was everything," she says.

At Mayo, Lisa was part of a clinical trial led by Jorge Mallea, M.D., that examined whether lung valves could improve symptoms in people with Alpha-1. "Since having valves put in, my quality of life has improved immensely," Lisa says. In May, she had a second set of valves placed by Sebastian Fernandez-Bussy, M.D. "It's life-changing surgery. Seven years ago I was told it would be two-and-a-half years until I was on the lung transplant list. Now, I'm only using oxygen at night and when I exercise."

Jan has a longstanding connection with Mayo Clinic, too. Jan's family members were among the first patients through the doors when Mayo Clinic opened in Florida, and she became a patient herself soon after. She's received care for a number of conditions over the years, including breast cancer, asthma and fibromyalgia. "My life is constantly keeping all the bouncy balls in the air," Jan tells us. She credits her care team, including physicians Daniel Macklin, M.D., Paul Young, M.D., and Sarvam TerKonda, M.D., for helping with that juggling act. "They're wonderful doctors and super people," she says. And thorough. "It's worth the drive to Jacksonville because at Mayo I get all of my tests done and all of my questions answered."

And that drive doesn't feel quite so long when you have a good friend along for the ride.

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