John Hermann is not a Rochester resident, but the 26-year-old is the next nearest thing, a frequent visitor from his home in Towanda, Ill., six and a half hours away.
"The compassion and understanding of health-care providers at Mayo (Clinic) has been such a blessing," Hermann said. "Mayo Clinic and Rochester always offered me true sanctuary."
He knows about Mayo's care because, for nearly six years, he's been coping with the devastating effects of brain cancer and a partial temporal lobectomy.
But Hermann is more than his illness. He works to "share resources and information to others also dealing with neurological conditions," one way through a website he started called The Upper Story project, a website that gathers "neurological-minded info, businesses, products, and services all to one source."
The site includes a search engine, a "Wikipedia-like open community input" and a list of businesses, Hermann says. The site promotes information on topics such as seizure awareness, but Hermann explains the site still needs to grow. It launched in August. He is working to register the site as a 503(c)1 nonprofit, and he is hoping to bring together an oversight board.
In addition to Upper Story, Hermann also has made art to work through his medical difficulties.
"My absolute favorite aspect of all my journeys and time spent at Mayo and Rochester is the cultural arts," he said. "Thursdays on First events were so uplifting during very rough days."
Hermann's condition made his love for filmmaking difficult because traditional cameras weighed more than he could lift. Tools such as smartphones have alleviated this problem, and Hermann creates digitally manipulated and computer generated imagery.
"My work begins with photographs I shoot as keepsakes of moments," he said. "I enjoy treating these moments like paint, stained glass or as though I am making a sculpture in cyberspace."
Hermann's colorful, abstract images are available as museum quality prints or greeting cards. "Blood Moon," one of his latest pieces, is created from photographs Hermann took in Rochester.
Hermann has been coming here for nearly six years. He was 20 years old when he was "experiencing nausea 24/7, unable to eat, too weak to move about independently or do anything for that matter." He lost 45 pounds and was forced to have brain surgery.
His initial prognosis was that he wouldn't live past 21. Hermann credits his parents, Carol and Bob Hermann, for getting him to Mayo Clinic for treatment.
He still is dealing with related medical problems. His recovery has been complicated by nasal surgery and hyponatremia. In addition, his sleep must be supervised because of a kidney condition.
Despite his difficulties, Hermann says, "I am grateful to be alive and determined to experience an even fuller wellness."
He jokes that his surgery helped him popularize the "shaven side of your head hairdo. The Half Mohawk look."
Making jokes and making art help him cope with his health challenges.
"The emotion in the recovery from brain surgery was inexpressible with words," Hermann said. Through his art, he said he "hopes to express what words cannot."
Seeing art here, as well as making it, became important to him.
"The Rochester Art Center and the Mayo art collection are essential," Hermann said. "I think it is the best ingredient to the unique combination of qualities that constitute Mayo and Rochester. When I caught sight of the art of (Spanish artist Joan) Miro, it presented inspiration and levity giving my heart and mind respite."
Hermann challenges the notion in society that one's productivity defines his self-worth. Still, his achievements show that Rochester's patients, as well as the creative people who live here full-time, add to its culture.