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Why I should have brought a box of tissues to Mayo Transform

Mayo Clinic’s Transform 2015 conference has proven to be one that isn’t just about healthcare innovation as we traditionally view it. Heartstrings are being pulled – in a good way.


When you think of massive healthcare conferences, many might expect to hear from speakers who are physicians, entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs. At Mayo Clinic’s Transform, this is true to some degree, but there is a different, more sensitive and compassion-driven vibe.

Some of us are getting a little choked up.

The first session of day one was one that specifically touched on compassion, love, the importance of sharing stories and the impact of powerful listening when it comes to health.

Dr. Marvin Seppala, Chief Medical Officer at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, gave an extremely thoughtful talk in which he vulnerably shared his story about his struggle with addiction from a very early age – from being a high school drop out to making it through medical school. He distinctly clarified that he believes addiction is a disease just like any other illness, and it’s important to treat it with that sense of urgency and technical care.

He explained how through his struggle and process of rehabilitation, he still experienced self-hatred, but a shift happened when he really understood that those around him, those who suffered with the disease as well, saw through that and actually saw him. “I like to say I was loved back into existence,” Seppala said.

Seppala made clear that he believes expressing love should be just as important as checking vital signs when it comes to treating patients.

Then, John Costik, Lead Software Designer at the Center for Clinical Innovation at the University of Rochester, shared his story about being the parent of a young child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

His story was so clearly personal, and you could feel how as a father, seeing his son challenged with this condition was a heartbreaking experience. Which is why he worked to develop a better, more efficient and compact device with Dexcom so that he wouldn’t have to “strap a laptop” to his 4-year-old son.

Kevin Kling came next. He proudly calls himself a storyteller, but that’s almost an understatement. Writers are often told to show, not tell, and Kling truly shows his stories on stage.

Kling talked about what it’s been like to have a disability, the deformation of his left hand from birth and then losing the use of his right arm after a motorcycle accident. But he doesn’t talk about it as if it’s been something he’s had to deal with or learn to accept.

Kling is the perfect example of what it looks like to embrace your circumstances, lean in, and treat them as just another way you can use what are generally perceived as hindrances as actual assets in your life. Not to mention he is hilarious and has impeccable timing. His entire talk was punctuated with laughter from the crowd.

Then, during day two, Nick Jehlen, founding partner of Common Practice, gave an extremely well-executed talk about the importance of discussing our health with loved ones, and in particular, talking about death.

Common Practice has created the game My Gift of Grace, which is designed to turn these often times uncomfortable discussions, or elephants in the room, as Jehlen refers to them, into an interactive process that inspires sharing. The game isn’t just a helpful process for someone who is sick or dying. It’s designed to be a nurturing and insightful activity for both those who are ill and those who love them and are involved as well.

My Gift of Grace was created to turn gratitude into a physical thing, as Jehlen pointed out. And it isn’t just about having a powerful conversation or sharing, a significant amount of the people Common Practice has observed after playing the game actually went on to approach advance care planning.

It’s fair to say that Mayo’s Transform has been saturated with inspiring stories and has an audience that is receptive to the fact that healthcare innovation is not just about medicine, technology or policy – it is in many ways about how we feel, how we love, how we listen and how we accept reality for what it is with an effort to make a difference.