Michelle Stadstad Honors Son's Memory with Midlife Career Change

Faces of Altru - Published on December 22, 2015

Michelle BlogEight years ago, at age 46, Michelle Stadstad left a decades-long career behind, gave up a job she loved and said goodbye to coworkers who had come to feel like family. She knew in her heart it was the right change at the right time. Learn what drove Michelle to become a nurse >>

Returning Patients to the Game of Life – Jeremy Gardner, MD

Faces of Altru - Published on December 10, 2015

700x700_Dr GardnerAs a kid, Dr. Jeremy Gardner of Altru Advanced Orthopedics dreamt of being a football coach. Today, he helps patients return to the game of life after injury.

“I’m most motivated by watching patients improve. I love seeing them be able to return to work or other activities that they were unable to do before.”

Dr. Gardner’s areas of interest include disorders of the shoulder, knee and hip. He performs hip and knee replacements, as well as shoulder and knee arthroscopy.

“My personal approach to care is to work with the patient,” he explains. “I strive to be sure that my patients are fully informed of their available options. In general, I focus on starting with the least invasive treatments and progressing toward surgery only when needed.”

In his free time, Dr. Gardner enjoys fishing, golfing, going to the lake and traveling. He and his wife have also been involved with the CVIC fundraising program for a new women and children’s shelter in Grand Forks.

“The children in these situations are often quite vulnerable. So, we want to provide them an opportunity to escape to a safe place.”

Dr. Jeremy Gardner – a true Face of Altru.

Faces of Altru profiles Altru Health System physicians and staff who live the organization’s mission at work and beyond the walls of Altru; they set the standards for Improving Health, Enriching Life.


Faces of Altru - Published on November 30, 2015

Now is a time to reflect and appreciate those people and things in our lives we are thankful for. When we thought about all the staff who make the magic happen behind the scenes at Altru, we were inspired to create #AltruThanksU. We visited fourteen departments and snapped photos of a few employees to thank them for the job they do. Last week, we shared these on Facebook. All Altru employees contribute to ensuring our patients and fellow staff members have a positive experience during their time with us. The employees we met are shining examples of how our mission, Improving Health, Enriching Life, is carried out day-to-day.

Behind the Scenes
Many of the departments featured work behind the scenes. They don’t always have contact with our patients, but their jobs are vital to providing excellent patient care. Linen services make surgery packs and ensure clean linens are distributed throughout Altru. Grounds workers take care of Altru’s eighty acres of land and clear all the snow during the winter. Security services train officers for patient and staff security. Sally Stocker, a messenger in the mail room not only distributes mail; she mends and sews doctor and nurse uniforms.

9 Sally Stocker

Positive Attitudes
All of the employees we talked with had similar reasons about why they enjoy their jobs: their co-workers provide joy. Leah Grovum in linen services said, “I love the people I work with. I like that everyone is friendly. Even passing people in the hallways, they are all very friendly, always have a smile on their faces and always say hello.” Our values shine through. We work to meet the needs of our patients and work as a team with honesty and respect. (Learn more about Altru’s Behavior Standards.)

16 Leah Grovum

Altru employees contribute to a positive atmosphere by working hard and having positive attitudes. This includes an occasional joke or two. Julie Walberg, bio-medical secretary, attests to her co-workers’ positivity. “I love the people I work with. They make me laugh every day. They are so funny. If anyone ever has a bad day and needs a laugh, come to Bio-Med.”

19 - 20 Julie and Quinn

While speaking with Patty Nordin, catering food service worker, she added humor to our conversation, “Why have I worked for Altru for 30 years? I stayed around for the blue stone you receive for fifteen years of service! Just kidding, really I am a people person, so working in catering allows me to interact with people.”

10 Patty Nordine and Mark Brousseau

Thank You
We would like to thank all of our employees for the work they do. We would also like to thank all of those who participated in #AltruThanksU.

  • Debbie Abar, human resources supervisor

  • Melissa Arnold, human resources specialist

  • Sandy Bates, Supply revenue and reimbursement coordinator

  • David Bergstrom, staff chaplain

  • Jason Breitwieser, groundskeeper

  • Abby Jo Brown, patient access representative

  • Quinn Eggebraaten, biomedical technician

  • Mark Ellingson, pastoral care manager

  • Leah Grovum, linen associate

  • Johanna Heier, greeter

  • Roger Herlickson, greeter

  • Carlos Hidalgo, hospice chaplain

  • Beverly Jung, pastoral care department assistant

  • Kathy Langowski, learning coordinator

  • Matthew Mayes, staff chaplain

  • Penny Millspaugh, infant/child bereavement and holistic care coordinator

  • Jennifer Neis, website coordinator

  • Julia Nieuwsma, food service worker

  • Patty Nordin, catering food service worker

  • Clarence Reed, security supervisor

  • Kerwin Sletto, staff chaplain

  • Sally Stocker, messenger

  • Tim Vangrinsven, security access control coordinator

  • Julie Walberg, biomedical engineering assistant

#AltruThanksU is for all of our kind, compassionate and hardworking providers and staff. This holiday season, we would like to thank you for all the work you do to improve health and enrich life across our region. Your dedication shines through your service to our patients.

Interested in joining our great team? Learn more >>

Touching Lives, Big and Small

Modern Mom - Published on November 8, 2013

Neonatal TouchTen tiny fingers. Ten tiny toes. Families in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) ache to touch and hold their sons and daughters.

At Altru, our goal is for parents to go home with knowledge and confidence to handle their babies with tender loving care.

Jodie Storhaug, an occupational therapist specialized in neonatal touch and massage, works closely with babies, parents and Altru staff to ensure positive touch is incorporated into daily care. “The basic massage principles are actually quite simple,” she said. “Move slowly, watch for cues and respect the baby.”

Family Experience
Inspired by a college professor passionate about pediatrics, Jodie cared for her first newborn in 1983. Nearly 25 years ago, in 1989, she became certified in infant massage instruction. Since, she has even applied it to her own daughters.

“I would massage my daughter’s hand during church sermons to keep her quiet,” she explained. “It was our special bond. Even today at age 23, she offers me her hand during the service.”

Jodie continues to teach infant massage classes to expecting parents through Altru’s preparing for childbirth classes.

Unique Certification
In September of 2013, Jodie became the first occupational therapist in the tri-state area certified in neonatal touch and massage therapy.

The certification process started with a minimum of 1,000 hours in a NICU, followed by 15 hours of online education from experts across the country with passing scores for each module. Once completed, Jodie attended two days of hands-on training and passed a final exam.

Jodie is excited to share her enhanced skills to further the expertise of Altru therapists and nurses. Together, they can have a greater impact on the long term outcomes and facilitate bonding and nurturing opportunities for parents.

Premature babies are incredibly vulnerable. The brain is growing faster than ever. Beyond enhanced emotional bonding, early touch can positively impact anatomy and muscles, breathing patterns and brain activity in babies. “From blood draws to nose tubes, task-oriented touch in the NICU is necessary,” explains Jodie. “We try to balance it with nurturing touch.” Positive touch can reduce stress, keep babies calm, help them engage with their parents and promote good sleep.

“In the midst of medical experts, it’s important for parents to know they are the most important person in the baby’s life,” concluded Jodie. “We help them gain that confidence.”

Have you had or known a baby in Altru’s NICU? Please share your experience.

JodieJodie Storhaug has 26 years of experience as an occupational therapist. She has worked in various therapy settings with both children and adults, but has always been drawn to the neonatal intensive care unit. Jodie and her husband, Bruce, live in Grand Forks. They have two daughters and a new son-in-law. 

Physical Therapy Ultrasound Treatment Promotes Post-Delivery Relief

Modern Mom - Published on September 13, 2013

Mom and babyThe childbearing years are an exciting time. However, pregnancy and delivery may take a toll on a woman’s body. Physical therapists specializing in women’s health are trained to treat the aches and pains that accompany pregnancy, as well as bladder and bowel control issues, incontinence and pelvic pain. All of these may be a result of stress to the pelvic floor due to pregnancy, labor and delivery.

If you have had a previous vaginal delivery, you know that the sore and inflamed tissues of your pelvic floor post-delivery may make it painful to urinate, have a bowel movement, perform daily activities, or even stand and sit. Therapeutic ultrasound treatment relieves pain, decreases swelling and improves healing of the pelvic floor tissues, and is now available to mothers delivering at Altru’s Family Birthing Center in the days following a vaginal delivery.

How It Works
To perform the ultrasound treatment, specialized physical therapists apply the ultrasound for 7-8 minutes using a gel barrier sheet between your skin and the ultrasound tool in the privacy of your hospital room. This treatment has been highly effective in decreasing the pain and inflammation new mothers often experience in the pelvic floor area, and can actually hasten the healing process following a vaginal delivery.

Therapeutic ultrasound can be performed while you are still in the hospital after having your baby. It is also available on an outpatient basis after you are discharged from the hospital at Altru’s Outpatient Physical Therapy Department in Altru Rehabilitation Center.

Talk to your health care provider if you are interested in this treatment option. If you have questions regarding this treatment, please contact Angela at 701.780.2510 or Holly at 701.780.2517 at Altru’s Outpatient Physical Therapy Department.

Angela and Holly

Angela De La Cruz, PT, MPT and Holly Bommersbach, PT, MPT are physical therapists at Altru Health System who have extensive training and specialize in women’s health and pelvic floor issues.

Youth & Electronics: Do They Play Well Together?

Modern Mom - Published on September 6, 2013

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month. In the past four decades, obesity rates in the United States have soared among all age groups. We have the power to change these trends. Guest blogger, Altru's Dr. Grant Seeger explores how electronic devices impact today’s youth.

Youth and Electronics

As a father of four young children, I have personally witnessed how easily today’s youth use electronic devices. The United States is now overflowing with these devices in the form of mobile phones, tablets, large desktop touchscreens and video games. Tactile fine motor movements are becoming more important for email, texting, games and more.

Pros and Cons
Using these devices in the future will be essential in daily life. There are many benefits to using touchscreen electronic devices, including:

  • access to unlimited learning material,

  • positive social interactions to foster community,

  • efficient communication tools and

  • development of fine motor skills.

However, there are many pitfalls that could result in detrimental experiences. These include:

  • unlimited access to harmful material (if parental controls are not used),

  • social interactions gone bad (violence, privacy issues),

  • social isolation,

  • limited physical activity contributing to weight gain, muscle loss, poor metabolism and diabetes,

  • questionable detriment to depth perception development and

  • lack of parental contact.

Lack of parental contact can be the worst detriment of all. Electronic devices have their place in keeping children occupied in order to calm the environment and diffuse aggression. However, they can be overused. There is a fine line between occasional and excessive use that leads to the detriments listed above. 

Human Interaction > Electronic Interaction
A recent article in the Journal of Nutrition, Education, and Behavior by Ray & colleagues (2013) finds that a higher number of parenting practices was associated with more favorable health behaviors. Stronger associations between parenting practices and nutrient-dense (healthy) food intake and meal frequency were found when children perceived high parental warmth/responsiveness. Stronger associations between parenting practices and energy-rich (unhealthy) food intake and screen time were found when children perceived low parental warmth/responsiveness.1 In sum, children that had more screen time also had worse eating habits and less perceived parental responsiveness. Children need human parental interaction, not electronic interaction.


Interestingly, children who watched over two hours of television per day had increased odds of low communication scores.2 Whereas child-directed media was associated with low language scores, adult-directed media was not.2 The findings by Duch & colleagues (2013) support the harmful impact of screen media in toddler's language development.

Sit Less, Play More
Reducing sedentary time should be a priority. Sedentary time, usually in front of a television, has been associated with higher socioeconomic status.3 Decreased sedentary time was linked to families with more siblings, family visits to parks and family participation in sports.3

Data from Atkin & colleagues (2013) show that the greater amount of time spent with the mother and more restrictions on female children from playing outside significantly increases sedentary time.3 Researchers suggest increasing participation in sports and decreasing restrictions on young girls playing outside in order to increase physical activity and lower body mass index.


My personal recommendation is to never let children take a touchscreen device, such as an iPad, into their room alone. Keep the screen visible and monitor their activity.

Local Movement
The Grand Forks community has made recent efforts to improve family access to athletic and other recreational activities. Choice Health & Fitness has been a great addition to the community. The challenge is making use of these facilities on a routine basis and promoting family health by decreasing electronic screen time.

Seeger Family

Photography credit goes to Erika Leitch Photography. erikaleitch.com

Grant R. Seeger, MD, MHA is a radiation oncologist at Altru Health System. He and his wife, Rebekah, have four young children.     

1. Ray C, Kalland M, Lehto R, & Roos E. (2013). Does Parental Warmth and Responsiveness Moderate the Associations between Parenting Practices and Children's Health-related Behaviors? J Nutr Educ Behav. In Press, 2013.

2. Duch H, Fisher EM, Ensari I, Font M, Harrington A, Taromino C, Yip J, Rodriguez C. (2013). Association of Screen Time Use and Language Development in Hispanic Toddlers: A Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Study. Clin Pediatr (Phila). Jul 1. In Press, 2013.

3. Atkin AJ, Corder K, Ekelund U, Wijndaele K, Griffin SJ, & van Sluijs EM. (2013). Determinants of Change in Children's Sedentary Time.  PLoS One. Jun 28;8(6):e67627. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0067627. Print 2013.

Remembering Cherished Children

Modern Mom - Published on August 7, 2013

Do you have a son or daughter you would like to remember at a Memorial Service? Perhaps you know a relative or friend who lost a child?

Wings of Hope, the Infant and Child Bereavement program at Altru Health System, is holding the Cherished Children Memorial Service 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 13. Taking place outside in front of Altru Hospital, this event is in memory of all children who have died. Balloons will be available for decorating, and they will be released at the end of the service.

Memory Wall
In 2000, a memory wall was dedicated to all children who have died. The wall resides in the park east of the hospital and south of the flag. Various families have chosen to have their child’s name engraved on this wall.

Angel Wall

The wall is located near the Christmas Box Angel, dedicated in August of 2010 to all children who have died, including babies who died before or shortly after birth. The statue was introduced to the world in the book The Christmas Box, a worldwide bestseller and hit television movie by author Richard Paul Evans. In the book, a woman mourns the loss of her child at the base of an angel monument. Even though the story is fiction, the angel monument once existed in Salt Lake City cemetery.

Angel History
The new angel statue was commissioned by Evans in response to reports that grieving parents were seeking out the angel as a place to grieve and heal. It was dedicated in December of 1994 in Salt Lake City. The angel statue in Grand Forks was the 11th to be dedicated. Now, there are over 100 angel statues throughout the world.


Offering Hope, Year After Year
If you look closely, you can find the word “hope” on the angel’s right wing. On December 6 every year, a candlelight ceremony is held in the lobby of Altru Hospital for all infants and young children who have died. The ceremony includes walking out to the angel, where families can place a white flower at the base. (This is explained in  Richard Evan’s book.) Families are invited to place an ornament, with their child’s name on it, on a large Christmas tree in the hospital lobby.

Candlelight Ceremony

Learn more about the Infant Bereavement Program at Altru in this blog post: Celebrating Life... and Death. For more information about the program or the August 13 Memorial Service, please call 701.780.5250.

Toni_blogAltru's Infant Bereavement Coordinator, Chaplain Toni Betting has worked at Altru for 19 years. She was born and raised in Michigan, N.D. and raised her family in Ellendale, N.D. Toni enrolled in college at the University of Mary in Bismarck at the age of 50, after the last of her nine living children graduated from high school. She graduated with a major in pastoral ministries and a minor in addiction counseling.  She was hired as a chaplain here in 1994 and on January 1, 2013, took the position of full time Infant Bereavement Coordinator. Toni has 28 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. Her favorite pastimes include gardening and traveling, mostly to see her family.

Pregnant? Go Fish

Modern Mom - Published on July 15, 2013

SalmonBetween the changing body, wacky hormones and mommy brain, being pregnant is stressful enough. Pregnancy nutrition is important, but we don’t want it to be confusing. Fresh fruits and veggies are obvious picks. Seafood, on the other hand, is a trickier subject.

Is it okay to eat seafood when you’re growing a babe? Guest blogger, Dr. Nicholas Ralston, helps us answer this age-old question. 

Ocean fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin D, vitamin E and iodine. For this reason, the FDA recommends pregnant women eat up to 12 ounces of low-mercury seafood per week, an amount equal to two portions that are about the size of a woman’s palm.

Studies have found that children whose mothers ate more ocean fish did better on intelligence tests and have greater social and scholastic aptitudes than children whose mothers ate less than two fish meals per week. Children whose mothers ate no fish did the poorest.

What about the mercury?
Current warnings regarding mercury risks arose after negative effects reported in a Faroe Islands study. The Faroe Islands lie between Iceland and Scotland. Because their mercury exposures are among the highest worldwide, this population was one of the first studied. However, only a fraction of their mercury exposure comes from eating fish. The majority of their mercury exposure comes from eating pilot whale meat.

Pilot whales are slightly smaller than their killer whale cousins. Mercury exposures from pilot whales and large sharks can be harmful, but beneficial effects are observed in children whose mothers eat more commonly consumed ocean fish. The difference depends on how much mercury is in relation to the amount of selenium.

Selenium’s role in preventing mercury toxicity was first shown in 1967 and has been under continual study since. In fact, to understand any aspect of the seafood mercury issue, you must first understand selenium’s role in the body and the interactions between mercury and selenium.

What is selenium?
Selenium is an essential trace element that we need in our diets for numerous processes, including brain development and protection from oxidative damage. A pregnant mother needs to supply selenium to her baby in order to meet the needs of her child’s growing brain.

Under normal conditions, selenium is effectively delivered from the mother to her baby. However, high mercury exposure directly interferes with this process. We now know the way mercury causes harm is by binding selenium and preventing it from performing its necessary functions. 

Smart Kid

The Basic Chemistry
Since one atom of mercury binds one atom of selenium, it is important to eat foods that contain more selenium than mercury. Virtually all foods (including almost all seafoods) contain much more selenium than mercury. The only seafoods that contain significantly more mercury are pilot whale and shark meats. (These are the mercury-containing foods that were the basis for the fish consumption advisories.)

In the Faroes study, the more ocean fish that mothers ate during pregnancy, the better protected their children were from the bad effects of eating whale meat. This is because ocean fish are rich in selenium.

So, our best advice? Eat up to two 6 ounce servings of low-mercury fish per week. You’ll be providing essential nutrients for yourself and your baby, and possibly boosting your baby’s cognitive development. In other words, go fish.

What is your favorite fish dish? Let us know.

More Information
Nutrition During Pregnancy
Pregnancy and Fish: What’s Safe to Eat?
Food Safety for Moms-To-Be
Fish, Mercury, and Nutrition: The Net Effects

Dr. RalstonDr. Nicholas Ralston worked in nutrition research for many years and was trained in biomedical research at the Mayo Graduate School, Rochester, Minn. For the past 12 years, he has led dozens of research studies of mercuryselenium interactions that have been primarily funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Best iPad Apps for Toddlers and Kids

Modern Mom - Published on April 12, 2013

As a child life specialist, I work with newborns through teenagers in a variety of settings. I use an iPad as a source of distraction or relaxation with some patients. The iPad can be a fun tool for interactive games, books and songs for young children, as well as older children and adults.


Here is a list of apps I have found to be popular. Some are educational, while others are just for fun or to pass the time. (Unless a price is listed, most of these apps are free.)

Toddler +

  1. Peek-a-boo Barn ($1.99)

  2. Elmo Loves ABC’s Lite

  3. Elmo Monster Maker ($2.99)

  4. Buzzle

  5. Wheels on the Bus ($1.99)

  6. Mickey’s Road Rally

  7. PBS Kids (short video clips)

  8. Sprout Games and Videos

  9. Sprout Good Night Star

  10. Squiggles


  1. Toy Story Read Along

  2. Miss Spider’s Tea Party

  3. Thomas and Friends Engine Activities

  4. Pirate School (Jake and the Neverland Pirates)

  5. Glow Art ($0.99)

  6. Art of Glow ($0.99)

  7. Kaleido Free

  8. Crayola Color Studio HD

  9. Dr. Seuss Band ($0.99)

  10. Cupcakes!

Grade school+

  1. Angry Birds (space version for younger kids)

  2. Temple Run

  3. Paper Toss

  4. Fruit Ninja

  5. Cut the Rope ($0.99)

  6. WackaMonsta

  7. Where’s My Water

  8. Let’s Create Pottery HD Lite

  9. Glow Hockey

  10. Gutterball: Golden Pin Bowling HD

We always recommend researching and testing any app prior to allowing a child to use it. Make sure you are comfortable with the content. Check that there are limited ads.

Additionally, as with anything involving screen time, we recommend setting a time limit of no more than 60 minutes. Just as kids shouldn't spend hours in front of the TV or computer, the same applies to iPads and other electronic devices. Encourage your kids to get up and move around. It's important to exercise both the brain and the body.

App Organization
Folders can be created by clicking an app and holding it down until it shakes. Then, drag one app over another. Folders can be set up for each child or by topic (i.e. games, puzzles). This helps children know which apps are theirs.

App Samples

(It’s also possible to lock the screen so kids stay within the app. Learn more.)

Many free apps offer the opportunity to “upgrade” in a pop-up box. Clicking yes will take you to the App Store. As long as you set a password, your child will not be able to download and charge to your account.

Another easy way to discover new apps? Visit the Top App section. It lists the highest rated or most downloaded apps. Often, the “lite” version is similar to the full—and free.

Do you let your child use an iPad or tablet? If so, what is your favorite app?

Melissa Swenson has been a certified child life specialist (CCLS) at Altru for almost five years. She has a bachelor's in early childhood and elementary education and master's certification in teaching and learning with technology for preschool through twelfth grade. Melissa loves working with children of all ages and getting to "teach" children and their parents about medical procedures, tests and safety. In her free time, Melissa enjoys scrapbooking, reading and gardening.

We Can Learn a Lot From Children

Modern Mom - Published on April 5, 2013

This original blog post, by author Michelle May, M.D., was published in the Huffington Post on March 28, 2013. Read the full article here. 

FruitBasketI love watching children. They have so many natural behaviors that can teach adults how to love food -- but not too much -- and how to fit physical activity into our day. Here are some of the important lessons we can learn from observing children:

Eat when you're hungry. From the time they're born, babies and young children know when and how much they need to eat -- and they cry to let everyone else know, too. As they grow, this important instinct can be un-learned due to environmental, social and emotional influences. By the time we're adults, we may have picked up the habit of eating for reasons other than hunger: mealtimes, reward, stress, anger, boredom, deprivation and countless other triggers. By recognizing the difference between needing to eat and wanting to eat, adults can re-learn when and how much to eat, too.

Stop eating when you're full. An infant will turn their head away when they've had enough to eat, and a toddler will throw a plate of food on the floor when they're done. As adults, we clean our plates because "there are starving children" somewhere or just because something tastes good. I'm not suggesting that we start throwing our plates on the floor again, but we need to remember that food is abundant so there's no need to eat it all now.

Being too hungry makes you grouchy. Being hungry, tired or frustrated are sure to make a child crabby -- and affect adults the same way. As parents, we do our best to make sure we are prepared with nutritious, delicious food to feed our children when they're hungry. We should plan ahead to care for ourselves that way, too.

Snacks are good. Most kids naturally prefer to eat smaller meals with snacks in between according to their hunger signals. That pattern of eating keeps their energy up and their metabolism stoked all day. Adults who need to fire up their energy and metabolism might benefit from this pattern, too.

Play with your food. Most kids love to examine, smell and touch their food. Since eating is a total sensory experience, they get the most from every morsel. This childlike approach of eating mindfully will allow you to appreciate the aroma, appearance and flavors more -- especially if you aren't driving, watching TV or standing in front of the refrigerator. You'll probably eat less while enjoying more.

See the other nine tips. What else have you learned from watching your kids eat? Let us know. 

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