Lost and Found: Helping a Patient’s Spouse Return a Borrowed Wheelchair

After listening to a patient's husband explain how a wheelchair he had borrowed went missing, Paul Albrecht gave the man one of his business cards — and a promise to help.

When we called Paul Albrecht for comment on the story we're about to tell, he answered, "Hello, this is Paul. How can I help you?" Which, looking back, is about perfect. The tale began at the desk of Shirley Spreeman, a health unit coordinator at Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse. "An elderly man walks up to my desk," Spreeman says. "I asked if I could help him and he responds, 'I certainly hope so.'"

The man then briefed Spreeman on the two months he'd spent trying to recover a wheelchair he'd used to bring his wife of 60 years into the medical center for what would end up being the last days of her life. It was a wheelchair he'd borrowed from his local Veterans of Foreign Wars service organization, and one that had traveled many places during his wife's stay. "He just wanted it to be returned to his VFW," Spreeman says.

Spreeman knew the odds were not in their favor. "Given all of the wheelchairs we have here, I knew it would be like finding a needle in a haystack," she says. "I was really stuck on what to say to him, or what to do to try to help him." 

It was then that, almost on cue, Albrecht appeared at Spreeman's desk. "As he normally would, Paul greeted the man by saying, 'Can I help you?'" Spreeman says. "The man then re-told Paul everything he'd just told me."

After listening, Albrecht gave the man one of his business cards — and a promise. "He said, 'Give me three days. I'll meet you back here at 3 p.m. in three days, and I'll either have your wheelchair or we'll figure something else out,'" Spreeman recalls.

The man's newfound hope, Spreeman says, was obvious. "I think for the first time he truly felt like someone had listened to him and was going to do something to help him," she says. "I, on the other hand, thought, "Oh no, Paul's just promised the impossible!'"

So three days later, the man returned to Spreeman's desk promptly at 3 p.m. Moments later, Albrecht came walking down the hall, pushing a wheelchair. "My mouth dropped," Spreeman says.

It wasn't the exact wheelchair the man had borrowed from his VFW, but Albrecht tells us it was close. It was also one that he, and Mayo Clinic, were happy to let the man have in its place. "It was really about, what as an organization can we do to make this right?" Albrecht says. "I wanted him to have a chair that could go back to his local VFW. I checked all of the different places where we keep chairs here and had no luck tracking down this particular chair, but within our fleet of chairs I was able to find a very similar-looking chair that could replace the one he'd borrowed."

With a front-row seat to the exchange, Spreeman says it was like watching Mayo Clinic's Model of Care in action. "I've never felt more proud of Mayo Clinic or the employees I get to work with every day," she says. "Watching Paul go out of his way to do this is, to me, what 'the needs of the patient come first' is all about."

You don't need to go out of your way to share your comments below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.