In a bizarre case that only got weirder as the days marched on, one young woman went from being a grateful patient at Mayo Clinic to feeling like a “prisoner” in an increasingly unwelcoming environment.
Alyssa Gilderhus, 18, has garnered quite a bit of attention following a CNN story published this week detailing what led her to the hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, and what ultimately sparked her harrowing escape.
In footage showing Gilderhus leaving the hospital, which was orchestrated under the guise that she was going to visit her frail grandmother in the parking lot, a nurse with the Mayo Clinic is seen grabbing the young patient’s arm once it was discovered she was planning to leave the medical center.
After Gilderhus made it into the vehicle with her mother and stepfather, Amber and Duane Engebretson, Mayo Clinic personnel called 911 to report what they described as a “patient abduction.” Captain John Sherwin of the Rochester Police Department, it should be noted, told CNN there “was no violation of law.”
“Essentially,” he explained, “you had a patient that left the hospital of their own planning, with the assistance of family members.”
But that’s not at all how Mayo Clinic officials understand the situation.
It was Christmas morning 2016. Gilderhus was rummaging through her gifts — she had just unwrapped her first present, a pair of cowboy boots emblazoned with the Future Farmers of America logo — when she rushed to the bathroom, moments later screaming for her mother.
Gilderhus’ parents found their daughter curled up on the floor, vomiting. She said her left side was weak and she couldn’t hear out of her left ear. Duane Engebretson said his stepdaughter was “petrified.”
A local hospital, where Gilderhus underwent emergency surgery, determined she had a brain aneurysm. The Engebretsons asked for their daughter to be transferred to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.
When she finally arrived at the famous hospital, first delayed due to weather, surgeons gave Gilderhus a 2 percent chance of living. But she continued to recover — a turn of events that was nothing short of miraculous. Gilderhus’ parents described the neurosurgeons as “fantastic,” adding, “They saved her life.”
All was well, until Gilderhus was transferred from the neurology floor to the rehabilitation unit.
According to the family, the rehab doctors immediately sought to take Gilderhus off oxycodone, a powerful pain medication the neurology doctors had prescribed for the 18-year-old patient following her invasive surgery. Duane Engebretson said his stepdaughter would “lay in bed with tears coming out of her eyes because she was in so much pain.”
Even Mayo Clinic’s own website states opioids are critically important and appropriate for post-surgical pain management.
The problems just continued from there. Gilderhus’ parents said their daughter’s breathing tube was the wrong size, claimed their social worker discussed private financial information within earshot of family and visiting friends, and accused hospital staff of failing to discover their daughter had a bladder infection.
With a smorgasbord of unanswered questions, Amber Engebretson frequently butted heads with some of her daughter’s care team. Ultimately, a dispute she had with a nursing aide on Feb. 21 resulted in her being banned from the Mayo Clinic one day later.
One day after being kicked out of the hospital, Amber Engebretson took to Facebook, according to CNN, to say she is “not allowed in Alyssa’s room and no one is allowed to have any say or participate in her [care].”
“Prayer warriors unite,” she wrote. “We need your help. … Please read this and share this post in hopes it reaches the people or person who can help us.”
Art Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University School of Medicine, reviewed Gilderhus’ case and told CNN the situation “should have never happened,” describing the ordeal as a “cautionary tale.”
In a statement released this week, the Mayo Clinic stood by its decisions but failed to offer any details regarding its seemingly outlandish treatment of Gilderhus.
Patient safety is always our highest priority, and it is at the forefront of the care we deliver to each patient. Our full statement in response to the CNN story can be found here: https://t.co/rmC8aId10d
— Mayo Clinic (@MayoClinic) August 13, 2018
Despite the fact that Gilderhus gave Mayo Clinic officials permission to speak publicly and on the record about the details of her case, personnel at the hospital said they “will not discuss specific patients or their families,” but described CNN’s story as “inaccurate and incomplete.”
On Feb. 21, the day before Amber Engebretson was kicked out of the hospital, a psychiatrist examined Gilderhus and determined she was incapable of making her own medical decisions. As a result, a hospital social worker went to adult protective services in two counties and attempted to persuade those authorities to assume legal guardianship over Gilderhus.
Neither Gilderhus nor her parents were made aware of this effort.
A few days later, on Feb. 26, the hospital confiscated Gilderhus’ cell phone, her laptop, and her tablet after learning she was trying to communicate with her mother. Mayo Clinic staff also barred anyone from staying at the hospital overnight with Gilderhus.
“The doctors said they were doing this for Alyssa’s own benefit,” Duane Engebretson said.
Had she night escaped the facility, he told CNN, he believes he might not have seen his stepdaughter “ever again.”
As for Gilderhus, she said she felt like “the biggest weight” had been “pulled off” her shoulders when she finally left Mayo Clinic.
“It was phenomenal,” she added. “The longer I’m away from Mayo Clinic, the better.”