New Knee, New Energy for Teaching

Sandy EspeSandy Espe has taught business classes at Grand Forks Central High School for the past 30 years. She’s passionate about teaching and helping her students succeed.

Last year, Sandy could no longer give it her all.

“I felt like I was jipping my students of having a teacher who was able to put her whole self into teaching,” confesses Sandy. “It was awful feeling so miserable and trying to be myself in front of the class.”

By spring, Sandy had had enough. She underwent full knee replacement surgery of her left knee in May 2014 with Dr. Robert Johnson, whom she knew through church.

The Time is Now
With arthritis in both knees, Sandy’s pain started several years ago. At age 51, she knew it was time to seriously consider surgery. Living in Grand Forks, having surgery close to home was also important to Sandy.

“Looking back, I am very thankful I had the surgery. I put it off thinking I wanted to wait as long as possible,” she explains. “However, my quality of life was horrible.”


“Trevor Lennon is a first-year teacher at Central High School in Grand Forks. I feel blessed to be able to be healthy again so that I can mentor him through his first year of teaching. We are also co-advisors for Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA).”

Sandy’s honest advice to anyone contemplating knee surgery: “Do it! It’s painful, and the exercises hurt a lot at first. However, it is well worth it in the long run, when you’re able to walk again without pain.”

Recovery and Returning to School
Sandy cannot say enough about her care team. “Dr. Johnson is wonderful, as are his nurses and therapists. They made me feel at ease. Recovery was especially great. It was quiet, and I felt like I got a lot of attention.”

Sandy was able to recover and concentrate on physical therapy over summer break. She returned to teaching in the fall.

“I can now last the whole day without crying in pain by the time I get home,” she smiles. “If I am going to do a good job teaching, I need to be up and on my feet walking around, helping kids in my classroom. I want to be the best teacher I can be, and I am so happy I can concentrate on my students again.”

Is joint pain getting in your way? Our goal is to get patients back to an active, pain-free lifestyle as quickly as possible. Learn more about Altru’s Joint Replacement Center.

Deep Sea Fishing with New Shoulders

Ralph's AMRalph Osterhout is looking forward to a trip to Mexico in January. Deep sea fishing is on his list of things to do, and with two brand new shoulders, he’s ready to enjoy his upcoming adventure.

Through Altru’s Orthopedics, Ralph underwent total joint replacement of his right shoulder in May, followed by his left shoulder in September.

An American veteran, Ralph’s shoulder damage started in the service, with three operations in 1969. “Later, when I was experiencing a great deal of discomfort, I was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis,” Ralph explains. “My joints were completely destroyed.”

Quality of Care
Ralph raves about the quality care he received at Altru.

“All the nurses were wonderful. They controlled my pain so well. Not only did they provide excellent care for me, but they also cared for my girlfriend, Linda, during my surgery.”

Linda shared, “As a former nurse, I was truly impressed by everyone I encountered. Before Ralph went into the operating room, one of the nurses gave me a big hug to ease my nerves. She even returned the following day before her shift, just to see how we were doing. The nurses at Altru know how to have fun, while still remaining highly professional. In fact, we’re creating a memory book of our experience.”

Ralph smiled, “We actually brought flowers and chocolates to the pre-op nurses the day I was released—that’s how much we appreciated them.”

Coin momento

Ralph keeps this thoughtful note and Canadian coin from a nurse in his wallet. It serves as a reminder of the wonderful experience he had at Altru.

Quality of Life
Today, Ralph’s pain is completely gone, and his range of motion has greatly improved.

“Before surgery, my range of motion was just a tiny box in front of me. Now, I can put my hand behind my back and raise my arm above my head. These movements sound simple, but they make a world of difference in daily life. It’s amazing to be able to move again.”

From the little things, like scratching his own back and getting dressed, to the big things, like deep sea fishing off the coast of Mexico this winter, Ralph is truly enjoying life with his new shoulders.

Is joint pain getting in your way? Our goal is to get patients back to an active, pain-free lifestyle as quickly as possible. Learn more about Altru’s Joint Replacement Center.

Living and Hunting with a New Knee

SamsonA carpenter most of his life and currently working in Maintenance at the University of North Dakota, Dan Samson relies on his hands and knees to get his job done every day. When he’s not pounding nails, you can often find Dan enjoying a fall day deer hunting with the guys.

The last few years haven’t been as enjoyable, however. Living with a bum knee has its drawbacks. Even walking was becoming a challenge for Dan. When the pain became unbearable, he scheduled an appointment with Dr. Jeremy Gardner of Altru’s Orthopedics.

“My knee was knuckle-on-knuckle,” explains Dan. “The constant aching would wake me up in the middle of the night.” Dan underwent total knee replacement surgery with Dr. Gardner on July 18, 2014. Three days later, Dan was back home and starting therapy through the Sanny and Jerry Ryan Center for Prevention and Genetics.

“Altru staff helped him remain as comfortable as possible,” shares Dan’s wife, Sandy. “I was involved throughout the process – at the pre-op education class, where all our questions were answered, and during therapy sessions.”

After eight weeks of intense therapy, Dan returned to work September 15. “When the therapists tell you to do the exercises, make darn sure you do them,” stresses Dan. “It’ll make all the difference.”

Dan’s Advice
For someone considering joint replacement surgery, Dan’s advice is straightforward: “Don’t wait. I waited three years too long. My cartilage was completely gone, so it was bone-on-bone by the time I went in.”

Today, the pain is gone. Dan continues to get better every day. He’s able to walk straighter and faster, do the work he was meant to do and, most importantly, enjoy a pain-free life, including his favorite hobby.

“I’m a hunter,” Dan grins proudly. “I’m excited about deer hunting this fall with my son, brother and nephew. I won’t be dragging behind the rest of the crew.”

Is joint pain getting in your way? Our goal is to get patients back to an active, pain-free lifestyle as quickly as possible. Learn more about Altru’s Joint Replacement Center.

ASTYM Therapy Keeps Matt Running

Astym AMMatt Mutzenberger, 48, began running three years ago. Not long after starting, he began experiencing a variety of injuries ranging from soreness to shin splints. After an initial recommendation from Dr. William Haug Jr., sports medicine, he began therapy sessions with Stephanie Barstad, an Altru physical therapist.

Stephanie, also a runner, began to change Matt’s form to reduce the risk of repeat injuries. In the spring, Matt experienced pain in the front of his ankle, which worsened with running. At that time, he was training for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth.

She selected ASTYM therapy as the key treatment.

“ASTYM works well with active people. Patients are usually more motivated,” Stephanie said. “ASTYM allows patients to keep doing what they enjoy.”

How ASTYM Works
ASTYM therapy addresses problems such as scarring, fibrosis and degeneration that often occur in soft tissues. The therapy eliminates or reduces unwanted scar tissue that may be causing pain or movement restrictions.

Most patients experience a significant change in their symptoms after just three to four visits. ASTYM combines therapy sessions with exercise to heal patients.

“After the first treatment, I felt great. I’m 100 percent convinced ASTYM is what helped,” Matt said. “I felt like a new person.”

“Patients experience less pain, and I can see the results,” Stephanie explained.

TC Marathon

Running Grandma’s
After his treatments, Matt was able to run Grandma’s. “Steph didn’t just do her job, she cared about me. That’s a big deal,” he said.

Matt hopes to continue to run the rest of his life. “The trick to running is staying healthy.” ASTYM helped him do just that. 

Providing these services since March of 2014, Altru has several therapists trained in the use of ASTYM techniques. To make an appointment with an ASTYM-certified therapist at Altru, call 701.780.2538. Learn more about ASTYM therapy at Altru.

My Weight Loss Journey by Joe Myers, RN

Joe Myers, RN, Altru’s Administrative Director of Surgical Services, shares about his personal weight loss experience through Altru’s Weight Management Program. 

Myer AM

My weight has been a challenge since I got out of the Army 40 years ago. After college, I put on a few pounds each year due to a much too sedentary lifestyle.

I have been in nursing since 1979 and employed at Altru for most of that time. As health care providers, I think we often overlook our own well-being. As our workday runs longer, we often lack time to cook properly or exercise regularly.

I made a conscious effort to reverse the trend about five years ago, when I began an exercise program through Altru’s Medical Fitness Center. Over a year, I lost about 35 pounds by exercising three to four times per week. I still had more to lose.

Creeping Up
When I took a new position with longer hours, exercise went by the wayside and my weight started to creep up again. My A1C (I’m a type 2 diabetic) was increasing, and my degenerative knee disease was acting up again.

In December 2013, with my retirement date slightly over a year away, I spoke with my primary care physician, Dr. Shane Nygard, about Altru’s Weight Management Program. Within a few days, I was contacted about the specifics of the program.

Structure, Goals, Motivation
I had my baseline visit in mid-January. My realistic goal was to lose 45 pounds by the end of the sixth month. The program gave us a structure that helps to maintain focus on your goal. The diet is fairly rigid based on your caloric need.

Each week we had a weigh-in and classes that focused on either nutrition or exercise. Nearly 10 weeks into the program, I was close to my goal. Before 12 weeks, I had lost the 45 pounds and was determined to continue.

Stretching Beyond the Comfort Zone
Prior to the program, my exercise was limited to treadmill walking and weightlifting. Rachel Aure, Altru’s health and wellness specialist, exposed us to new exercises. I tried core strengthening, stretching, yoga, exercise ball workouts and more. In May, I discovered the rowing machine and began with 30 vigorous minutes, followed by brisk walking.

In June I transitioned from walking to running, which I honestly hadn’t done since leaving the Army. I tried my first mile and did it in a blazing 11:30. By July 14, I ran three miles straight. (I’m going to run the Wild Hog 5K in September, and in the spring I plan to do another 5K in Alabama with my grandkids.)

Health Benefits
I have more energy, my knees feel better and I needed new clothes. At my recent six-month checkup, I also discovered:

  • I had officially lost 53.8 pounds and a total of more than 22 inches.
  • My blood pressure has dropped to normal range, so my medication has been cut in half.
  • My A1C has returned to a normal reading, and all of my other lab work is great.

I have revised my goal to lose another 10 to 15 pounds. The program allows for modification and continuation, so I will continue weighing in and return to the weekly meetings as needed. The skills taught at the meetings will help me manage the day-to-day challenges of continuing and maintaining my weight loss.

Program Praise
I can’t say enough good things about Altru’s Weight Management Program and the Sanny and Jerry Ryan Center for Prevention and Genetics. Janet Schreier does a great job coordinating the program. Ann Mason is not only an excellent nurse practitioner, but also empathetic and supportive. Jennifer Haugen has a lot of knowledge and enthusiasm as the program dietitian, and Rachel Aure is exactly the right person to run the exercise program, as she is both encouraging and challenging.

Finally, I can’t say enough about my wife, Margaret. She has been incredibly supportive from the decision to begin the program, to all the changes in meal planning and the exercise regimen. We joined Choice Health & Fitness, where we have been regulars since January.

Rewarding Retirement
As the journey continues, we’re even closer to retirement. I’m looking forward to an active lifestyle with my extra free time. My wife and I are moving to North Carolina to winter near our girls and grandchildren, and we plan to spend summers near Detroit Lakes, MN. We will keep a gym membership, and we both enjoy golfing. Our children and their families are all active, and we are looking forward to keeping up with them.

If you or someone you know could benefit from healthy lifestyle changes like Joe, contact Altru’s Weight Management Program or the Sanny & Jerry Ryan Center for Prevention & Genetics.

See also:

Whether Selling Cars or Healing Humans, Great Service is Great Service

CraigRead the raving online reviews or talk to anyone who’s purchased a car from sales consultant Craig Croaker at Rydell Cars. It’s clear that great service is his priority.

Craig talks about Altru Health System in a similar fashion: “I was so impressed by the care that I didn’t even want to go home.”

Strange Warmth
After a relaxing trip to Jamaica, Craig noticed a strange warm spot on his chest while at the gym. He immediately called the clinic, and the nurse recommended he come in for a stress test.

Over the next few days, Craig saw his family practitioner Dr. Joshua Deere, cardiologist Dr. Jason Go, and arranged for an angioplasty with cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Barry Bjorgaard.

“It was like clockwork,” explains Craig. “Every appointment was exactly on time or within a few minutes.”

Unfortunately, they found seven blocked arteries. Craig went home Friday afternoon, with open heart surgery scheduled bright and early Monday morning.

Seamlessly Positive
From admission on Monday to discharge the following Friday, everything went smoothly. In fact, it was better than he expected.


“I was so impressed by the care. It was very heartfelt,” Craig reflects. “I started writing down the names of people who impressed me, but there were just too many to list. From doctors to nurses to off-site therapists, from the positive attitudes of the cleaning staff to friendly smiles from the front desk staff, everyone was so good. They were true examples of ladies and gentlemen in their work.”

Have you experienced great service from Altru? We would love to hear about it.

Moving Marie, and Helping Marie Move

Marie KozelMarie Kozel is no stranger to hospital rooms. Car accidents, cancer, broken bones, hip replacements, blood transfusions. She’s seen more than her fair share of hospital walls in her 79 years.

On March 25, Marie was one of 13 rehabilitation patients who moved from Altru Rehabilitation Center to Altru Specialty Center. This time, with a broken leg.

Thirty-eight years prior, in 1976, Marie was also a patient at United Hospital, moving from United to Medical Center Rehabilitation Hospital. She got to experience history in the making not once but twice.

“Everything is different today,” Marie explains. “The staff does so many more things for a person nowadays. We felt like celebrities riding in the van and wearing special corsages. I was even on the news!”

Everything Changes, Nothing Changes
From new technologies to facilities, medicine has clearly advanced since 1976. However, one thing that remains the same is the genuine care for the patient.

“The therapists are so smart and helpful,” Marie marveled. “The new space is beautiful. And the people here—they’re just wonderful.” 

After three weeks of recovery, Marie will soon return home to East Grand Forks, where she’ll continue with at-home therapy to continue building strength. She smirked, “And, I’ll keep my medical alert system nearby.”

Learn more about how we’re making history for Marie and other patients at Altru Specialty Center.

Anonymous Gift Delivered in the (St.) Nick of Time

Beth Altru MomentBeth Monson wasn’t sure what Christmas would look like this year. The last few weeks had been tough. She had recently become a single mom to her three-year-old son. On November 12, she suffered a miscarriage at twelve weeks.

Then a little Christmas miracle happened.

Going about her Environmental Services duties one day in Altru’s Family Birthing Center, Beth went into the staff lunch room. On the table was an envelope with her name on it. Inside, a note explained the writer had been a single mom and knew how hard Christmas could be. Along with the note, Beth found $100.

“I was speechless at first,” said Beth. “I looked at my co-worker and told her what was in the envelope.”

Tears filled Beth’s eyes, and those of almost everyone else in the room.

“Now I can get Christmas presents for my son,” she told them.

A few nights later, Beth and her son had “date night,” complete with dinner and shopping for toys.

“He wouldn’t have had presents if it wasn’t for this person’s kindness,” said Beth. “Thank you, whoever you are, for making my son’s Christmas so special.”

Were you the recipient of an act of kindness this holiday season? Share in the comments below.

Rejoicing Life while Welcoming Death

“Five months ago, to the day and hour, Ben and I were in the hospital lobby, planning our son’s baptism,” said Janelle Gergen. “Today, we’re sitting next to the baptism font in church talking about his birth and death. It’s a reminder to us of the Lord telling us when and where we need to be.”

18 Weeks, Trisomy 18
Janelle’s second pregnancy was progressing well. She saw family physician Dr. Andrew Gasparini at Altru Family Medicine Residency for regular prenatal care. She and Ben had been married eight years and already had a son, Peter, seven.

18 week ultrasoundAt their 18-week appointment in November 2012, Dr. Gasparini noticed something suspicious on an ultrasound. He sent Janelle to Altru Main Clinic for what turned out to be an almost three-hour ultrasound. The next day, Dr. Gasparini asked Ben and Janelle to come in for a meeting.

“He was so kind, patient and gentle in speaking with us,” said Janelle. “He shared that our child had problems. At the time, he knew our baby had cysts on the brain, spina bifida and intestinal problems. Our world stopped.”

Dr. Gasparini referred the Gergen’s to a maternal fetal medical specialist in Fargo for a more extensive ultrasound and testing. During amniocentesis, they learned they were expecting a boy. They also found out he had trisomy 18, a condition caused by an error in cell division. Trisomy 18 affects many major organ systems, causing a high mortality rate before or shortly after birth.

“This second pregnancy went from preparing for and welcoming life, to preparing for life and then preparing for death,” said Janelle. “Ending the pregnancy was not an option. We wanted to uphold the dignity of our son and celebrate his life, no matter how short that may be.”

Birth Plan
Ben and Janelle began working on their birth plan, knowing they would have limited time with their son once he was born. Dr. Gasparini assembled a team of doctors for their care, including obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Michael Brown and neonatologist Dr. Durga Panda. He also put them in touch with Toni Betting, coordinator of Altru’s Infant Bereavement Program.

“We had specific requests, and our medical team was instrumental in carrying them out,” said Janelle. “Dr. Panda and Dr. Gasparini were helpful in giving us options in a nonjudgmental way. It was a relief knowing they respected and supported our wishes.”

Ben and Janelle elected to have a cesarean section so their son could avoid the stress of labor. They also requested no mechanical ventilation and looked to Dr. Panda for help understanding the “Do Not Resuscitate” form.


“Anticipating something as serious as this is difficult, for parents and physicians,” said Dr. Panda. “My job as a physician is to listen to what the parents want and to advocate for their child. It was important that we discussed things in understandable terms and that Ben and Janelle’s wishes were respected.”

They requested, and were granted, permission to have their spiritual director, Father David Baumgartner, as well as Leigh Schrage, a photographer from the Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation, in the delivery room.

“It meant a lot to us that Altru was willing to let that happen,” said Janelle.

Meeting JohnPaul
On April 12, 2013, the Gergens arrived at Altru’s Family Birthing Center to deliver their full-term son.

“From the moment we checked in until the moment we left, everything went smoothly,” said Janelle. “Life is something to celebrate, and the OB floor is filled with reminders of how exciting it is to have a baby. Everyone we interacted with was very respectful of our situation.”

At 12:18 p.m., JohnPaul Robert Gergen was born. He weighed 4 pounds, 15.8 ounces and was 16 inches long, a good size for a trisomy 18 baby. Dr. Panda and a team of nurses began their assessments.


“Right before surgery, JohnPaul’s heartbeat was in the 140s,” said Ben. “Within seconds of his umbilical cord being clamped, it fell between 10-20. Dr. Panda told us, as compassionately as one could, that he wasn’t going to be alive long. He reassured us that JohnPaul wasn’t suffering, nor was he in any pain.”

“Nurse Mary Adkins gave JohnPaul a bath shortly after he was born,” said Janelle. “It was the only one he ever had. When I look at that picture, I know it’s Mary’s hand washing him.”

A few minutes after birth, Fr. David administered baptism.

“JohnPaul opened his eyes and make a few sounds at that moment,” said Ben. “He spoke to us.”

Once in recovery, Ben brought Peter in to meet his brother.

Peter meeting brother

“We had told him earlier that the baby wouldn’t live at our house, but in heaven instead,” said Janelle.


After Peter went back to the waiting room, a nurse listened again for JohnPaul’s heartbeat. He was gone.

“JohnPaul lived about an hour,” said Janelle. “We know suffering is part of the human condition. Amidst suffering, we look to find joy. We found that joy in the hour we had with our son. We rest easy knowing it was easy for him.”

Sharing Life and Death
Initially, Ben and Janelle didn’t want to share the details of their pregnancy with anyone. When they found an outpouring of love and support, they’re glad they did.

“It was the people surrounding us that allowed us, and still allow us, to get up every day,” said Janelle. “Opening up lets us share our son with other people. We feel blessed to be chosen as his parents.”

“As difficult as it was to hear the news in advance, it helped us process through our emotions,” said Ben. “We were able to lean on each other as a couple. We go day by day, the best we can.”

After JohnPaul died, Janelle took the outfit he had worn and placed it on the teddy bear she received from Toni Betting.

Infant Bereavement Bear“I didn’t understand ‘empty arms syndrome’ until I experienced it myself,” said Janelle. “When I’d encounter families and newborns in the community, it was difficult. Having the bear helps. It gets squeezed at night when I fall asleep.”

The bear, along with other support items, is one way Altru’s Infant Bereavement Program helps grieving families.

“Grief is not a process of forgetting, but rather a process of remembering,” said Toni. “The memories of pregnancy and the short time he was with them will be remembered forever. JohnPaul will always be their second child.”

The Gergen’s do not regret taking their pregnancy to full-term. They’re glad they researched their options for infant palliative care and advocated for their desires.

“Altru helped us fulfill our birth plan,” said Ben. “We appreciate how delicately our situation was handled. Without our doctors and nurses, our experience and what we remember of the experience would be drastically different. Their love and care was above and beyond.”

“It was all the little things,” said Janelle. “Dr. Gasparini knew how much joy it brought us to hear the heartbeat during appointments. The nurses made extra foot molds for our family and friends. They made accommodations on the OB floor so our family and friends could be with us. The decisions we made as parents in how to support our son’s short life were respected by Altru, especially during birth. It made all the difference.”

To watch JohnPaul’s full story from beginning to end, see this video by Janelle.

On December 6, Altru Health System will hold its annual Christmas Box Angel Memorial Service, sponsored by Wings of Hope Infant and Child Bereavement program and Altru Alliance. The memorial service is dedicated to all babies who have died before or shortly after birth, or in early childhood. Ornaments will be placed on a tree in Altru Hospital’s lobby. Those wishing to have their child’s name inscribed on an ornament may call 701.780.5250. You may also have an ornament inscribed before the service between 5:30-6:30 p.m. Inscribed ornaments from previous services are also welcome for placement on the tree. Please call 701.780.5250 if you wish to bring an ornament from a previous service.

Friends of the Foundation | Rohinee Damle

Rohinee“I had a feeling we would reach our goal this year because we seemed so close,” said Rohinee Damle, chairperson of Altru’s Harvest Gala. “It was incredibly emotional to actually hit the $1 million mark this year.”

Nine years ago, Rohinee approached Jon Green, executive director of Altru Health Foundation, with an idea to create a formal fund raiser to support patient care at Altru.

“I don’t think he was too excited about it at first,” said Rohinee with a smile. “He didn’t have the budget or the staff to pull off such a large event. I was able to convince him it wouldn’t be a problem, and he warmed up to the idea. It’s been a pleasure to work with Jon over the years.”

Jon and Rohinee

Rohinee was inspired to give back after the tremendous care her daughter received at Altru. “It’s important for our community to come together to support our nonprofit health care system. There are many wonderful programs and services provided to the community that insurance doesn’t cover. Without everyone’s support, things won’t improve and we won’t have services available to those in need,” explained Rohinee.

The first event was held in 2005. Around 130 people attended the event, raising $34,000 to aid in creating Altru’s Breast Center. This brought together necessary diagnostic components for women’s breast health to one centralized location, reducing wait time for patients between initial detection and diagnosis.

Other patient care areas within Altru that have benefitted from the Gala include the Breast Cancer Coalition, Diabetes Center, Multiple Sclerosis Clinic, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (Giraffe OmniBeds), Emergency Outpatient Department, Hospice – Sentimental Journey, and HARP (Help and Assist our Renal Patients).


Harvest Gala 2013, which was held at the Alerus Center and sold over 650 tickets, raised a record $224,000 for patients of Altru’s Pediatric Therapy Services.

“It’s amazing to see how much the event has grown over the years,” said Rohinee. “None of this would have been possible without the generosity of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks citizens and the tremendous group of volunteers we’ve been lucky to have.”

The next Harvest Gala will be held September 27, 2014 at the Alerus Center. For the latest information on Altru’s Harvest Gala, “like” them on Facebook or go to

Have you attended a  Harvest Gala? Tell us about your experience.

Friends of the Foundation is a series of stories shared by the supporters of Altru Health Foundation. Whether through monetary gifts, giving of their time or sharing their talents, our donors help us provide outstanding programs, technology and education for Altru patients and their families. Altru Health Foundation thanks these generous individuals for their passion and commitment to high quality, nonprofit health care.