‘People at Mayo Clinic think with their hearts,’ says mom of two heart transplant recipients

Madi and Sydney Rippy each received a heart transplant at just 3 years of age. In the years since, the sisters have spent countless hours with their care teams at Mayo Clinic. "To them, their providers are family," says their mom, Linsey. In gratitude for the care they've received and in support of other families, the Rippys have spearheaded a toy drive for Mayo Clinic Children's Center for the past 13 years.

April 2 was a big day in the Rippy household.

Madison Rippy turned 18. Her family showered her with gifts and a meal from Taco Bell, her favorite restaurant.

Madi was delighted. But it was a bittersweet celebration for Madi's mom, Linsey.

"I'm mourning so many things while also rejoicing," Linsey says. "Madi will never drive or go to college or live on her own."

But she's still here, and the fact that Madi and her younger sister, Sydney, are still here is a testament to both the generosity of organ donors and the Mayo Clinic teams that continue to care for the girls, who each needed heart transplants when they were just 3 years old.

"In 15 years, we've never had any negative interactions at Mayo Clinic," Linsey says.

"The people at Mayo will go to bat for you. They'll stand in front of a train for your kids," she says. "That's the Mayo difference."

Doing what's best for Madi

The Rippy family discovered the Mayo difference when Madi was 2 years old. She'd been diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy at a Twin Cities hospital and months later would receive a heart transplant at Mayo Clinic.

Sydney and Madi Rippy in earlier years with their cardiologist, Jonathan Johnson, M.D.

Three years later, Madi's younger sister, Sydney, would receive the same diagnosis. A few months after that, she received a new heart as well.

Both girls experienced medical complications that caused brain injuries. "Madi's body is 18, but her mind is not," Linsey says.

Mayo Clinic recognizes that.

At a lot of places, no matter your developmental status, when you are 18, they bump you up to adult care. But Dr. Johnson said, 'We don't have to do that. We're going to do what's best for Madi.'

Lindsey Rippy

"At a lot of places, no matter your developmental status, when you are 18. they bump you up to adult care," Linsey says. "But Dr. Johnson said, 'We don't have to do that. We're going to do what's best for Madi.'"

"Dr. Johnson" is Jonathan Johnson, M.D., the pediatric cardiologist who has cared for Madi and Sydney since they first came to Mayo Clinic.

"My girls love him and everyone involved in their care," Linsey says. "If I tell them we're going to Mayo the next day, they get excited because they know they're going to get spoiled and treated like royalty.

"To them, their providers are family," she says.

Giving back

The Rippy family has responded to the challenges they've faced not with bitterness but with gratitude and generosity.

For the past 13 years, they've spearheaded a toy drive to stock the toy closets at Mayo Clinic Children's Cener and the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester. They know firsthand the impact a new book or toy can have on a sick child.

"There were days when our girls didn't want anything to do with physical therapy," Linsey says. "They didn't want to get out of bed. But then someone from Child Life would come in and say, 'Let's go pick out a new toy,' and they'd walk to the toy closet."

Small steps like that made a big impact on Linsey and her husband, Noel.

"It's incredibly difficult to see your kid feeling absolutely miserable," Linsey says. "A new toy could make a huge difference to the kids some days, and also to us as parents."

That reality is never far from her mind. Which is why she is committed to ensuring other families have access to the same gifts.

There were days when our girls didn't want anything to do with physical therapy ... But then someone from Child Life would come in and say, 'Let's go pick out a new toy.'

Lindsey Rippy

In the past, Linsey has scheduled the toy drive around the holiday season. This year, she's stocking the shelves in April in honor of Madi's birthday and Donate Life Month.

The timing is perfect says Jenn Rodemeyer, manager of Child Life.

"We rely on donations throughout the entire year," Rodemeyer says. "Donations help stock our activity rooms, provide gifts for special occasions like birthdays and holidays, keep books in our waiting spaces, and provide incentives and prizes for programming and games like bingo. We are so grateful for every donation we receive."

The toy drive is a gift to Madi as well.

"She sees a catalog or flyer with toys and tells us what she wants and also what we should get for the kids in the hospital," Linsey says. "She's always been very tuned into giving."

Like mother, like daughter.

And, like Mayo Clinic.

"The people at Mayo Clinic think with their hearts," Linsey says.

Editor's note: If you'd like to support the Rippy's toy drive, you can shop their Amazon wish list. All donations go to Mayo Clinic Children's Center or Ronald McDonald House in Rochester.