Eau Claire palliative care team helps tree farmer's legacy forest dream come true

May 25, 2016

Roger and Sally Conklin recently planted over 4,500 trees as part of their legacy forest to increase diversity on the 100 acres where they live near Wheeler, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Rick Souther Photography.
Roger and Sally Conklin recently planted over 4,500 trees as part of their legacy forest to increase diversity on the 100 acres where they live near Wheeler, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Rick Souther Photography.

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Roger Conklin, resident and retired tree farm owner of Wheeler, Wisconsin, has a passion for being outdoors. He looks forward to the changing seasons and experiencing the cycle of planting, growing and harvesting through the tree farm business. He started planting trees in Minnesota in 1956 and expanded into Wisconsin with the help of his family and wife, Sally.

Today, Conklin Tree Farms is operated by their granddaughter, and Roger continues to enjoy being part of the family business. He looks forward to getting out on his tractor to inspect the growth of next season’s Christmas trees and tending to his legacy forest. He and Sally recently planted over 4,500 trees to increase diversity on the 100 acres where they live.

Roger was motivated to start the legacy forest as he began to experience health challenges. Over the past 20 years, he has had a hip and knee replacement, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and faced additional health issues related to his heart and lungs. With the help of the medical team at Mayo Clinic Health System and a large circle of family and friends, he was cared for and supported during each of these obstacles.

In October 2014, Mayo Clinic Health System Palliative & Supportive Care Service offered another level of care. The Conklin’s had an initial visit to discuss medical history and were offered temporary medical support during in-home visits. Both Roger and Sally agreed to and welcomed the visits. Palliative care is specialized medical care for people with a serious illness. It focuses on providing relief from symptoms and stress. The mission of the palliative care team is to support the patient and their family so the patient is able to live as well as possible.

Nurse practitioner Charlene Anderson has been coming to see Roger and his family for over a year. Anderson says, “By doing regular follow-up palliative care visits, we get to know the patient and family, which helps when setting goals for future care.” She feels these relationships are crucial in health care.

Sally is the major caretaker for Roger and also for her 94-year old mother. She looks forward to each visit with Anderson. “I sometimes get overwhelmed with keeping track of appointments, medications and staying on top of everything. When Charlene comes to our home, we confide in each other with all the daily challenges,” says Sally. “It is comforting for me to know that both Roger and I can ask questions and be reassured that he is getting the care he needs.”

During their monthly visits, Anderson works with the Conklin’s to determine how Roger’s medications are working and how to manage his shortness of breath and pain during day-to-day living. They also explore what is important to Roger in how he is living and about how his health care choices fit into his world.

Anderson recalls, “During one of ours visits, we talked about one of Roger’s dear friends who passed away. It was a time to reflect about what is important to him and his family. I offered listening support, and we talked about Roger’s goals and his enjoyment of driving his tractor for as long as he is able, even if that includes some risks.”

According to Roger, “It is a challenge to balance risk and my family’s urge for supervision with ongoing activities outside, including tractor work, which I still want to keep doing. I have been able to recover well from health setbacks, and palliative care has been very helpful in goal setting and discussing options, so I can continue to be involved in family activities and tree farming.”

The palliative care team helps patients like Roger as they transition into another phase of life that may be difficult to enter. But, it is important to have a plan and support for dealing with serious medical illnesses. Anderson says, “I am honored that I can visit with patients in their home to talk about their wishes before they are in a critical situation where decisions need to be made quickly and emotions can cloud decision-making.”

In community-based palliative care, Mayo Clinic Health System can help provide care for the complex physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs that may accompany illness and treatment, going at the pace set by the patient and family caregivers, so they may cherish the time spent with each other for as long as possible.

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Mayo Clinic Health System consists of clinics, hospitals and other facilities that serve the health care needs of people in more than 60 communities in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home. 



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Kristin Everett
e-mail: everett.kristin@mayo.edu
phone: 715-838-5805