If you meet a transplant social worker wearing orange and blue, it’s probably Danielle Peabody Reuss, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W., of Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester. She is passionate about her alma mater, the University of Illinois, and likes to show her spirit.
Danielle also has developed a passion for helping recipients through their transplant experiences. Though she came into transplant almost by accident—it was the only available social work position at the time—she’s found a real niche there.
“I’ve always had an interest in mental health and wanted to pursue a career where I could provide supportive counseling and also help with concrete needs,” she says. “Our patients in transplant do need empathic listening, but they also need help navigating complex systems, like insurance and wait lists.”
Danielle explains that when faced with a life-threatening illness requiring transplant, even some of the most well-adjusted patients find themselves in need of a social worker. Why? The reason for this, she says, is that undergoing a transplant affects every area of your life, such as:
“A transplant is not a simple ‘show up to the auto shop, have your carburetor changed and drive home,’” Danielle says.
She explains that preparation in every aspect of life is a much-needed process for patients undergoing transplant. Guiding and caring for patients as they go through this journey—being an advocate for her patients as well as donor families—is what motivates Danielle in her job.
“Transplant is a gift, and it’s important that we make sure candidates we approve for transplant are well-prepared to receive that gift,” says Danielle.
Two key role models have influenced Danielle in her social work at Mayo Clinic. When she started out in transplant in 2001, she worked alongside a social worker named Lorena Nimke, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W., who now serves as director of the Department of Social Work at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester. Lorena was instrumental in teaching Danielle the role of the transplant social worker and about the patient’s journey through transplantation. Another social worker, Dorothy Thatcher, L.S.W., who worked at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Rochester for over 30 years, taught Danielle key lessons about needing to take care of herself so that she could in turn take care of her patients. Dorothy also impressed on her the importance of the social worker on the medical team.
Danielle served on the kidney and pancreas transplant team for 14 years. Three years ago, she transitioned to a social work role supporting patients receiving heart, lung, hand and face transplants.
Her heart and lung transplant patients often are so ill while awaiting transplant that almost all of them are hospitalized. Danielle is there to provide the psychosocial support these patients need while waiting, especially as they are out of their normal routines, like working in their professions, and some of them are far away from home.
“I help provide some diversion and make the time here waiting more meaningful,” Danielle says.
Caring for these patients involves leading support groups, meeting one-on-one to create goals for their hospital stays, and connecting them to activities to give their days significance, such as making prayer shawls or custom fishing rods.
Another big part of Danielle’s job is helping patients talk through the flood of thoughts and feelings about having received an organ, as well as how they can express their gratitude to their deceased donor’s family.
“Transplant patients are profoundly grateful beyond words,” she explains. “Some may even feel guilty that they are celebrating in the midst of someone else’s tragedy. We process through these emotions, and I guide them through writing to the donor’s family.”
Before her patients leave the hospital, Danielle also helps them create a discharge plan, such as making arrangements for a nurse or physical therapist to go visit the patient back at home.
Outside of work, Danielle loves to go camping, take her dogs for a walk, downhill ski and work in the yard. She is also a newlywed, excited for her new venture into marriage.
Whether exploring the outdoors, sporting orange and blue clothes at work or helping inpatients plan Super Bowl parties, Danielle’s spirit and passion shine through.
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