In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

January 25, 2022

After a canceled flight, nurse takes the wheel and drives patients to Mayo Clinic

By In the Loop

When a group of patients heading to Mayo Clinic got stuck at the airport in Minneapolis, they hitched a ride to Rochester with a new friend — a Mayo Clinic nurse who had waited with them through multiple weather delays.


Oh, the weather outside was frightful in Minnesota on Dec. 26.

That was bad news for travelers at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, including Frank and Barbara Pearson. The couple were making their way from Florida to Rochester, where Barbara was scheduled for back surgery at Mayo Clinic. But their connecting flight from Minneapolis to Rochester was delayed. And delayed. And delayed again.

While the delays were frustrating, they came with a silver lining: good company. "There were about 20 us sitting forlorn at the gate," Frank says.

He and Barbara started chatting with the people around them, including two other would-be Mayo patients and Judi Mills, a nurse in Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic — the very department where Barbara would be receiving care.

"We all got to know each other pretty well," Frank says.  

Around midnight, the airline announced the possibility that the flight to Rochester would be canceled. "If that happens, I'm renting a car," Mills said. "I have to be to work tomorrow at 7 a.m."

Before long, the cancellation became a certainty. That's when one of Mills' new friends — whose first appointment was the next day — made a proposition. "How about I rent a car, but you drive." The Pearsons and another patient asked if they could hitch a ride south as well.

"I told them I'd be more than happy to do the driving if they trusted me," Mills says. "One of them said, 'Of course we trust you: You're a nurse at Mayo Clinic.'"

Mills and her companions flagged down an electric cart for a ride to the rental car area. And by 1 a.m., they were heading south down a snowy, slushy Highway 52.

"It took us over two hours to get to Rochester," Mills says. During the drive, the Pearsons and Mills' other passengers passed the time by telling Mayo stories.

"It was amazing to hear their stories. I was so encouraged by them," Mills says.

"They trusted a complete stranger because I was a nurse at Mayo Clinic. It was humbling."

Judi Mills

When they finally made it to Rochester, Mills escorted the Pearsons, both 83, into their hotel.

"How lucky we were to run into someone like this, who would not only drive us to Rochester but take us to our hotel," Frank says. "What started as a bad day turned completely around. We had the best time with this wonderful group of people."

After dropping another passenger at a different hotel, Mills and her final passenger parted ways at Rochester International Airport. Mills picked up her car, and the passenger caught a shuttle to her hotel.

"There were hugs all around when we said our goodbyes," Mills says. "It was an amazing experience."

But it wasn't over. Later that week, Mills stopped at the surgical pre-op area to say hello to Barbara, who she knew was scheduled for a procedure. Afterward she checked her assignment for the day and learned she'd be Barbara's nurse.

The entire experience was "a God wink," Mills says. "You think things in life are all a coincidence, but they're not. Everything for us lined up perfectly. It was an amazing trip. We were all where we were supposed to be."

Mills still marvels at the faith placed in her by her traveling companions. "They trusted a complete stranger because I was a nurse at Mayo Clinic," she says. "It was humbling."

The experience also reminded her that there are many ways to care for patients.

"I'd like to encourage all of our staff, no matter their role, to remember that they have the potential to influence our patients," she says. "Just listening to people when they are scared can make a difference."

Frank Pearson will attest to that.

"The people in Rochester are the nicest people in the world," he says. "Everyone makes such an effort to help you. It means the world to have that kind of support system around you. Meeting people like that, people like Judi — it restores your faith in human nature."


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Tags: Employee Stories, Judi Mills, Patient Stories

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