In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

October 20, 2022

Long path to lifesaving diagnosis leads to dream job at Mayo Clinic

By In the Loop
Stephanie Baird

Stephanie Baird, a recruiter in Human Resources, shares her experience in coming to Mayo Clinic as a patient looking for answers for sudden seizures. That experience ultimately led to her finding her dream job at the place she says saved her life.

Stephanie Baird thought what she was experiencing in 2016 were panic attacks. They typically started as a feeling of butterflies in her stomach and an inability to speak coherently. Sometimes, the symptoms came as many as 10 times a day.

"If I tried to talk, it would come out as utter jibber jabber," Baird says. "Apparently, I would bite my lip or move my fingers back and forth repetitively — none of which I could see for myself. I was embarrassed, afraid and just tried to hide them as best I could."

The path to a definitive diagnosis and answers was a long one. There were many visits to emergency rooms, MRIs that returned normal results, and consults with specialists near and far from her hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee.

With unanswered questions and symptoms that weren't easing up, Baird was getting increasingly frustrated and discouraged.

It wasn't until she came to Mayo Clinic in 2018 that Baird learned what she had been experiencing were complex partial seizures caused by a cluster of abnormal blood vessels, or cavernous malformation, in her brain.

It took two brain surgeries, but Baird has been seizure-free since 2018. And she says her life changed forever when she came to Mayo Clinic for answers. She was so impressed with her experience that she decided she wanted to be a part of the place that she says saved her life.

The News Center team caught up with Baird, now a recruiter in Human Resources, to learn more about her diagnosis, her care and now, her experience working at Mayo.

What were the symptoms that led you to seek care?

Some days, the extreme head pain was so severe that I could only lie in a dark room for hours and wait it out. I now know this was one of many bleeds in my brain. Finally, one night, I had a grand mal seizure in a restaurant with the man who is now my husband and one of our sons. I went completely out. I remember almost every detail of what happened before but almost nothing afterward.

I was told that night in the emergency room that I had epilepsy, which made little sense to me at the time. It didn't run in my family and, from what I had read, was rare to be diagnosed in your late 30s. I was placed on one antiseizure medication after another. None of them stopped my seizures. In fact, my quality of life only got worse over time. Not only was I living with all these seizures, but the medicines were very tough and taxing on my liver, memory and overall energy level.

Just as I started to wear medical alert bracelets, accepted being unable to drive, and looked at it as my new normal, my local neurologist called me one day and told me I had a cavernoma, or cavernous malformation. This small cluster of blood vessels was not cancerous, thank goodness, but it still needed to be removed. Over time, the slow bleeds leave deposits that create little caverns and cause the brain to essentially misfire. Mine was in my left temporal lobe, near the hippocampus. Removing it turned out to be no easy feat.

I first saw a local neurosurgeon here in Knoxville. His exact words were, "I've never seen one of these, but I can try to get it out." I was so exhausted that I almost let him "try."

Thankfully, my mom urged me to get a second opinion. I started doing my own research and sought out Duke and Mayo Clinic.

When I ventured to Duke, the Johns Hopkins-trained neurosurgeon said, "I can take this out, but if I do, you'll never talk again."

I left with so much sadness and discouragement that day. But when I returned home, I found a letter from Mayo Clinic accepting my case. Finally, a spark of hope.

What do you remember most about your experience at Mayo Clinic?

Support and compassion at every step — that's what I recall more than anything. I was excited to be seen but had no clue how I would pay to get to Rochester. At the time, I was a single mom. I was first told about LifeLine Pilots after calling Mayo Clinic to find out about travel options. I applied, and they accepted my case, too. Each and every flight from Knoxville to Rochester was through them and 100% voluntary. That alone was, and still is, extremely humbling.

Then, everyone I met, from visitor assistance in the lobby at Gonda to the nurses who spoke to me as I took my last breath to go to sleep before my surgeries, were all so very kind. And yes, I said surgeries in plural because I hemorrhaged on Day 2 and had a second surgery about 24 hours after the first. And I've been seizure-free ever since.

Stephanie Baird

Dr. Kelly Flemming was amazing. As soon as we met, she had an ease about her and seemed so very interested in my situation. I'll never forget her saying, "I don't know how this was missed for so long, and I can't believe you were on so many strong medications."

With her passion and focus in this area of research, I really felt like I mattered to her. I was not just another patient. Even the night before my first surgery, I remember she called me. I was shocked that she took the time to call — that is care like no other.

Dr. Giuseppe Lanzino oozed confidence. During a time when I feared whether I would survive another seizure, he walked into my patient room, looked at my file, and in his Italian accent said, "I can get this." No doubt or hesitation at all. And even if he wasn't sure, you couldn't tell. His nurse was amazing. Megan checked on me and never made me feel like a bother when I called her with the silliest of follow-up questions. With me being a worry wart, believe me when I say I had plenty. The staff in my pre-testing and step-down units were wonderful, too. I still have a T-shirt I asked them to sign. My life is forever changed because of each person I met at Mayo Clinic.

What would you like other patients who are going through a similar experience to know?

Do not quit asking questions and do not give up until you have turned over every stone. You know your body better than anyone. If something doesn't feel right, it's probably not. Seek out information and don't feel like you are a bother. You deserve a good quality of life, too.

What inspired you to look for work here?

I wanted to be a part of the place that helped save my life. I remember heading up to Rochester for my one-year follow-up. It was very emotional. I took the time to sit in the museum and walk through the halls where I had been rushed into surgery. I remember thinking, "How do they hire these people? Special personality tests or a certain Kool-Aid to drink?" I wanted to move in 2019. But with a newly blended family and three teenagers, it just wasn't feasible. Then COVID-19 hit. Mayo was the only place I applied for work.

What has been your experience working at Mayo?

There is a deep level of respect that I feel from the top down: leaders to peers and everyone in between. It's just a different atmosphere. I hope Mayo always stays true to the RICH TIES values (Respect, Integrity, Compassion, Healing, Teamwork, Innovation, Excellence, Stewardship).

How does your experience as a patient influence the way you work?

Now, I get to offer jobs to people like those I met during my time as a patient at Mayo. I get to share my story so often and do my best to treat others as I would want to be treated. After all, I was a candidate not long ago myself. As a recruiter, I'm honored to be a representative and face of Mayo Clinic.

As cliche as it sounds, try to be present and appreciate the moments. Keep an eye out for little coincidences that tell you that you're exactly where you are meant to be at that point in time. I still have so many neat stories to share about my journey from sickness to diagnosis to recovery — not one thing happened by chance.

I hope my story inspires others to dig deep and know we are part of something bigger. Your tough times now can be a part of someone else's survival guide in the future.


Tags: Dr. Giuseppe Lanzino, Dr. Kelly Flemming, Staff Stories, Stephanie Baird

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