Mother who lost son thanks Mayo for exceptional care, donation to her organization

Deshawn "Knuckles" Corbin was given one day to live but instead took 25 trips around the sun. His mom, Julie Anderson, thanks Mayo Clinic for the extra time she got with him and for a $75,000 donation to Transitional Housing of Steele County, where she is executive director.

Deshawn Corbin was not expected to survive his first day of life, but thanks in part to the care he received at Mayo Clinic, he lived to be 25 years old.

Deshawn, who often referred to himself as "Knuckles," after the character from his favorite TV series, "Sonic," was an old soul — a gentle, sensitive, intuitive and empathetic person.

His mom, Julie Anderson, says he lived a rich life despite his medical challenges and inspired others with his bravery.

Julie shares Deshawn's story to express her overwhelming gratitude to Mayo Clinic for the exceptional care provided to Deshawn. She also credits Mayo Clinic with another reason she's grateful — providing hope for families through a sizable donation made to her workplace.

Defying the odds from birth to adulthood: Deshawn's story

Deshawn was born in February 1998 with a congenital heart issue that affected the way blood traveled through his body and kept him from getting enough oxygen.

His birth mother, who was a teenager when Deshawn was born, was unable to care for a child with complex needs and chose to place him for adoption.

On the day Deshawn was born, he became a ward of the state of North Carolina and had his first open heart surgery. Two additional surgeries followed. Still, his oxygen levels remained low.

In November 2000, at age 2, Deshawn was adopted by Julie Anderson and her husband, Michael Corbin. Julie and Michael quickly established care for Deshawn at Mayo Clinic.

Julie and Deshawn in 2001, just before Deshawn's adoption was finalized.

Over the next 23 years, Deshawn would visit Mayo Clinic many times for complications related to his heart, rheumatoid arthritis that developed during childhood, and problems with his liver.

"He received excellent medical care through the years," Julie says.

Notably, in 2013, he had surgery at Mayo Clinic to help promote the flow of oxygen-rich blood in his body. That surgery increased his oxygen levels from the mid-70s to 92%.

That surgery dramatically improved Deshawn's quality of life and led to new opportunities.

"He had leading roles in two high school plays. He had a girlfriend. He went to prom twice. He graduated from high school. He traveled, went camping, swimming and hiking. He had a job he loved. He made dozens of friends," Julie says.

"He would not have had those experiences were it not for the hundreds of providers at Mayo Clinic who cared for Deshawn throughout his life," she adds.

He would not have had those experiences were it not for the hundreds of providers at Mayo Clinic who cared for Deshawn throughout his life.

Julie Anderson

In 2016 and 2017, Deshawn moved to People Two, a group home in Minneapolis, and was treated locally for infectious arthritis flare-ups and a cancerous lesion on his liver.

In 2018, he relocated to Progressive Living, a group home in Mankato, Minnesota, and resumed treatment at Mayo Clinic.

"He had excellent care from the staff of Progressive Living. They administered his complex medications daily and took him to the myriad medical appointments," Julie says.

He was transported to Mayo Clinic in Rochester often to address ongoing problems with his liver. He also had endoscopies to treat esophageal varices that were caused by his liver failure.

"The liver continued to present challenges, but he was not eligible for a transplant due to his complex medical history. His heart would not have been able to withstand the liver transplant," Julie says.

Despite these challenges, Deshawn continued to work during the next five years and was planning to pursue a degree in computer science from South Central Community College in North Mankato.

Surrounded by loved ones, Deshawn takes his final breath

On April 16, 2023, Deshawn became nauseated while getting ready for bed and described flu-like symptoms. The staff at Progressive Living, the group home where he was residing, became concerned and called 911. He was transported by ambulance to Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato.

"At first, doctors thought he was experiencing a bowel obstruction, but then they noticed something was awry with his right knee," Julie says. "It was full of fluid due to an arthritis flare-up."

Deshawn and Julie at a favorite hangout.

The doctors advised operating but were hesitant to do so with Deshawn's complicated cardiac history. After two days of close monitoring, Deshawn was transported to Mayo Clinic Hospital -- Rochester for surgery.

"The surgery was difficult, but it was a success," Julie says.

When Deshawn awoke, he asked for his iPad and began playing games with his online gaming group.

"He appeared to be doing well," Julie says.

At 1 p.m. the next day, Deshawn's nurse noticed he was disoriented. He suddenly lost consciousness, and doctors attempted to wake him. He woke up temporarily and was thrashing and trying to remove his IV, so he was sedated and intubated.

He barely made it through the next night. His oxygen levels were unstable, and he was experiencing lethal blood pressure fluctuations.

"During the night, as I sat by Deshawn's bed, holding his hand, I asked Deshawn's cardiologist what outcome we could expect. He said, 'We will do everything we can. If this were my child, this is the place I would want him to be,'" Julie says. "Those words were comforting to me."

Two days later, when doctors removed Deshawn's sedation, he did not respond. A CT and an MRI revealed that he had suffered a stroke or several strokes, which damaged his cerebellum.

"The doctors later explained that because Deshawn had an unusual physiology, having only one heart ventricle, he was not able to fight the infection caused by his arthritis flare-up. Embolisms had spread to his brain," Julie says.

For several days, Julie sat by Deshawn's bedside, conversing with Deshawn's medical team as they came and went.

They (Deshawn's nurses) would say things like, 'Deshawn, I'm going to brush your teeth now' and 'You might feel a pinch.' I found that to be deeply honoring.

Julie Anderson

Julie recalls the amazing doctors who cared for Deshawn during this time, including Grace Arteaga, M.D., Gregory Schears, M.D., Dante Schiavo, M.D., Jeffrey Weatherhead, M.D., and Heidi Connolly, M.D.

She also remembers the nurses, calling them "angels on earth" and "heroes" when describing how they talked to Deshawn as if he could hear them.

"They would say things like, 'Deshawn, I'm going to brush your teeth now' and 'You might feel a pinch.' I found that to be deeply honoring." Julie says.

On the ninth day after admission, Julie consulted with a team of neurologists about her son's outlook.

"They said that after nine days, if a stroke patient has not begun to show any signs of awareness of their surroundings, they likely never would," Julie says. "His brain stem was the only functioning part of his brain, and this part of the brain allows Deshawn to breathe and blink. This level of functioning would be what Deshawn could expect for the rest of his life."

To eliminate suffering, Julie and her family made the painful decision to remove his life support. Deshawn passed away at 2:46 p.m. on May 2, 2023, surrounded by his family and care team.

"I remember the words of the hospital chaplain who came to his bedside. 'He is more than the vision that you see in the hospital bed today. Remember that he is more than just today.' He was so much more," Julie says.

"I was not with him when he took his first breath, but I was with him when he took his last," Julie says. "We have Mayo Clinic to thank for that."

Touched by donation, Julie expresses gratitude to Mayo Clinic

In December 2023, seven months after Deshawn's passing, Julie learned that Mayo Clinic Health System was donating $75,000 to Transitional Housing of Steele County, where Julie works as executive director.

The donation was part of a $22 million investment in community organizations by Mayo Clinic to address pressing community needs related to housing, food insecurity, access to healthcare, and safe places for learning and youth enrichment.

Transitional Housing of Steele County helps individuals and families journey toward independent living, offering stable housing through rental subsidies, case management and emergency motel vouchers. 

"Many of the families and individuals we serve are escaping domestic violence. Others are affected by the ending of the pandemic-related moratorium on evictions," Julie says. "Rents continue to rise as wages remain stagnant. This funding means these people can be spared from evictions and remain housed."

Julie says Mayo Clinic's gift is the largest corporate donation the agency has received in its 24-year history.

I will never be able to adequately describe what this gift means for the people of Steele County. Besides providing our families with shelter and safety, you have transformed their lives by restoring hope.

Julie Anderson

"Children in Steele County have been going to bed wondering where they will be laying their heads the next night, whether their parents will be safe, and whether they will be able to stay warm," Julie says.

Mayo Clinic's gift will help the organizations address some of those concerns.

"'Thank you.' 'We appreciate you.' These words will never be enough to express the gratitude that is in my heart. I will never be able to adequately describe what this gift means for the people of Steele County," Julie says. "Besides providing our families with shelter and safety, you have transformed their lives by restoring hope. I wish you could see their faces."

In the same year when the worst thing that can happen to a mother happened, Julie credits Mayo Clinic with the two best things that have happened to her: The organization gave her many extra years with her son and gave the families she works with homes and hope.