Meet the Expert: Laura Holden, RDN, LD/N

Mar 27 11:30am | Kristin Eggebraaten | @keggebraaten

Transplant patients and donors are well-supported by a comprehensive team of transplant experts including transplant dietitians. Transplant dietitians help patients with nutrition-related aspects of the transplant journey from pre-transplant or pre-donation through years of post-transplant care. They might discuss weight, exercise habits, cooking strategies, proper nutrition, and food/drug interactions. They are a critical part of keeping patients safe and healthy before and after transplant.

Laura Holden is a clinical dietitian at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. We asked Laura some questions so patients can better understand her role and why she chose the dietetics field of practice.

Why did you choose this area of expertise? How did you get into nutrition medicine? Why transplant dietetics?

After several years working as a dietitian at another hospital, I was looking to challenge myself and applied to Mayo Clinic. I was chosen to work as a transplant dietitian by chance, but I am so happy I did! Every day I get to collaborate with teams of experts. I consider myself lucky to work with the experts on the liver and lung transplant teams and with our team of clinical dietitians. It’s inspiring to be surrounded by such knowledgeable and caring individuals.

Describe your specialty and areas of expertise/primary interest.

I primarily work with hospitalized liver and lung transplant patients. I find the pre-transplant liver phase particularly important as a dietitian. Our livers have 500+ functions and many are nutrition related, such as storing vitamins and metabolizing protein. When liver disease causes a breakdown in these functions there is always potential for these patients to have vitamin or mineral deficiencies. Many even develop malnutrition. It’s my job as their dietitian to investigate all these possibilities and develop a course of action. It’s essential that each patient’s nutrition status is optimized before transplant to ensure the best possible outcomes.

If you weren’t doing this job, what would you be doing?

It would have to be something food related! Either working with a food rescue organization or running a community garden. With our great weather and vast campus, I hope we can start a garden one day on the Mayo Clinic Florida campus.

Nutrition information online seems to be always changing. One day something is good for us, the next day it isn’t. How do you educate patients in these times of ever-changing information?

I take the time to read the actual research studies referenced by the media in their abbreviated articles. Typically, what is put out to the public is only a snippet of that research and with whatever spin may be popular. Today, the problem is not only that the research is progressing, and information is changing but that misinformation is blasted by non-professionals. The average person often cannot distinguish between credible sources and self-proclaimed experts. I focus on facts and basic information, and I do find by doing this that patients trust me, and we are able to make positive changes together.

Describe one of your favorite or most rewarding clinical experiences.

Seeing one of my patients a few months after his transplant well-nourished and thriving. He was very malnourished before his transplant due to early satiety and a poor appetite. He struggled the first few days after transplant but eventually rallied and started eating better and went home. I had to do a double take and check my notes when I saw him a few months later as he just looked like a different person. It’s amazing what a few months and a good appetite will do.

In your opinion, what sets Mayo Clinic care apart from other transplant centers?

The focus is on our patients’ care. And providers and clinicians are passionate about what they do. The patients always tell me how much they love their specific doctor or that they won’t go anywhere else besides Mayo.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Many times a patient is too sick to wait for an organ at home and must spend months waiting while admitted to the hospital. Often patients put up with the wait like champs. However, after a while some become tired of the monotony of waiting. It becomes a challenge to get them to maintain adequate nutrition. Fortunately, we do extra menu options such as homemade smoothies and our food service department is developing a special menu for our long-term patients. It takes some creativity to keep these patients interested in food.

What are your interests or passions outside of work?

I love being outside. Recently my husband Charlie and I went hiking in the Pacific Northwest and it was amazing! I can’t wait to go back. I also spend a lot of time gardening and planning our backyard escape. My cats Pinky and Floyd are always up to something and keep us entertained. We also enjoy visits with our family and exploring Jacksonville.

If you received a dietitian consult during your transplant evaluations, how did they assist you? Did you change anything in your diet or cooking to accommodate your transplant situation?


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