PBS’ ‘Mayo Clinic’ tells of the medical ‘miracle’ in Minnesota



It’s been dubbed “The Miracle in the Cornfields,” a place where doctors practice cutting-edge medicine and the needs of the patient come first. And it’s the subject of a PBS documentary debuting this week.

“Mayo Clinic: Faith – Hope – Science,” a two-hour film executive produced by Ken Burns and premiering Tuesday (check local listings), looks at the history and the culture of the original Rochester, Minn., nonprofit academic center that was established after a devastating tornado tore through town in 1883.

Local practitioner William Worrall Mayo and sons Will and Charlie took charge of the recovery efforts and patient care with the help of the nearby Sisters of Saint Francis.

Its director Mother Alfred Moes told Dr. Mayo that she had a vision from God to build a hospital that, she believed, would become “world renowned for its medical arts.”

Within a few years, her vision came true. Today, the Mayo Clinic employs more than 64,000 people, with campuses in Minnesota, Florida and Arizona and affiliates around the world, all the while putting patient care ahead of profit and giving hope to the hopeless.

“One of the most important things about the Mayo Clinic,” explains Erik Ewers, who directed the film with his brother Christopher, “is that people come there, they’re scared, and they’re terrified. They don’t know what’s wrong with them, or they’ve been given a death sentence, in essence, from someone else, somewhere else. And then they find out that the Mayo Clinic can help them.

“They used to call it ‘The Miracle in the Cornfields,’ way back,” he continues. “Depending on how you want to define ‘miracle,’ I would tend to agree.”

The film also tells the stories of patients who came to the clinic looking for answers, with two common themes emerging: They were cured by a treatment rejected or not considered possible elsewhere, and they were treated by a team of professionals who took the time to listen to their concerns.

“The one thing that really stands out is that teamwork effort,” Ewers says. “Your primary physician sits with you, and he or she says, ‘You know what, I am not sure on this. I’m going to call four other physicians.’ And you watch this person pick up a phone and call them and talk. Sometimes they’ll have small committee meetings to discuss one patient.”