How Kristina Hesby built a foundation.
Rochester native Kristina Hesby strolls into the People’s Food Co-Op on a sunny day in May listening to, of all things, the Trolls soundtrack. "#momlife" she writes of her musical selection.
"It’s actually really good!" she continues via Facebook Messenger. "And it’s really upbeat, which helps on Mondays."
Upbeat is a good word to describe Hesby, too. The 32-year-old, along with being a Mayo Clinic nurse, is a mother of two, wife to one, and founder of nonprofit organization Med City Foundation—which supports patients receiving treatment for blood cancers—and it takes an upbeat personality to manage it all. "I’m a big believer in that if you love something and are passionate about it, you find time for it," Hesby says.
"I compare it to having children—most of us have never gotten up multiple times in a night to care for another human being, and still function the next day. But we do it. And I have an amazing support network."
Those who know Hesby say she is such a do gooder, she could strive to do a little less. But her method works, it seems, with Med City Foundation board member Derrick Chapman saying, "You buy in. She establishes buy-in." Or take Hesby’s pal local radio personality Tracy McCray, who says, "She is focused on two things—making life better for patients as they endure treatment, and making our city better for all of us."
Nicole Ronning can attest to that. Her husband Jon underwent a stem cell transplant at Mayo Clinic, and during the health crisis had to quit his job. Ronning said Hesby and the foundation were "absolutely amazing. They helped us out with Christmas and helped us with housing. We would not have made it through those months if it wasn’t for her helping us, I can tell you that."
Here, Hesby talks about Med City Foundation, her hopes and dreams for the organization, and how losing her father at age 9 helped craft her into the Good Samaritan she is today.
Q: What propelled you to become a nurse?
A: When I was 8 my father (Ralph Wright-Peterson) was diagnosed with leukemia, so we spent a lot of time in doctors’ offices and in the hospital. Particularly when he would get blood transfusions or chemotherapy, I would stay with him. I interacted a lot with the nurses and they are what I remember of him in the hospital. That always stuck with me.
Q: You founded the Med City Foundation because you lost your father as a young girl?
A: Yes. We had just moved [from Rochester] to Duluth where my mom was pursuing a new career. He was diagnosed six weeks after we moved there. We were traveling a lot between Duluth and Rochester those eight, nine months, and the experience we went through made me want to do something in his memory. He was really active in Rochester so I wanted to make sure any impact or fundraising we did stayed local.
Q: What did your dad do?
A: He was the Mayo High School principal, and was the principal at John Marshall, too.
Q: What was that experience like, losing your dad?
A: Well, it’s kind of the one thing in my life that everything is either before or after. I was 9 when he died so that made adolescent and high school years even harder than they actually are. Every milestone after that was a sucker punch to the gut. Graduating, getting married, having kids, getting a job—they were all moments when he wasn’t there.
Q: During the worst of his treatment, your dad told your mom he knew the way to hell and back. Was he always so wise?
A: He was this quiet man who would come out with these statements that would stick with you, and that was one of them.
Q: What does Med City Foundation do, or whom does it help?
A: Our mission is to support the non-medical needs of patients in Rochester who are battling blood cancers. So we help patients of all ages who are battling leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. We don’t have a box that our services fit into because we try to meet the needs that the patient or family member is having. The number one request is related to lodging, but we also help with car repairs or home repairs for local individuals. We received a request from someone last year who was a single dad and he was sick, and wanted to do something special for his young son. We helped coordinate that. Marcus Sherels came and met them at Apache Mall and we got a gift card to Scheels and they went shopping and hung out. We also got them some Twins tickets so they spent the night in the Cities and went to a Twins game. There was another person who was Spanish-speaking and her faith was really important to her so we connected her to a church that had Spanish-speaking members. It’s really personalized.
Q: Med City Foundation had two properties for patients to use, but we heard that because of financial constraints you had to close one. Tell us about that.
A: When we leased the house we were hopeful that some of the patients would be able to pay and that the number of patients who were not able to pay would be something that we could cover financially. What we found was that they were really not able to pay. That’s why we went with a lease—we wanted to learn the needs of the patients, and that’s exactly what happened. We found out how important that home-like environment is to people, so we really have to find a way to provide that going forward.
Q: What about the apartment you have for people to stay in?
A: We just found out today that we can’t stay there after July. It’s not breaking news to anyone that housing is a shortage in town. So we’re not the only ones out there looking for affordable housing, but I know that we will figure something out.
Q: Is Med City Foundation entirely volunteer run?
A: Yes. We have no paid staff.
Q: Obviously, not all of your patients get better. Some pass away. How do you cope with the loss?
A: Well, the first time it happened that a patient passed away, I didn’t cope very well. But what I learned was to recognize it as a loss and grieve for them just the way I would for a family member or a friend. We also try to name them at board meetings and share their stories on social media to celebrate them and recognize them after they’ve passed away. That’s been very therapeutic for me and for others, to make sure their names don’t just go away.
Q: I read that every four minutes in the U.S., someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Is that stat still true?
Q: Rochester has more nonprofits per capita than any other city in the state. How do you stay competitive and, frankly, afloat as a small, volunteer-run organization?
A: It’s difficult. It’s really difficult. So first and foremost, I’m always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other organizations, and I think that serves us well. The other side of it is trying to reach individuals who are passionate about the cause and understand the importance of it. Because there are so many amazing causes, it’s important to reach out to those who have been impacted by it.
Q: We heard that you recently secured the incubator space at Rochester Area Foundation. What does this mean for your organization?
A: Well, it means we are not paying as high of rent any longer, so more of our funds are going directly to our mission. And it’s a networking opportunity. The Rochester Area Foundation has lots of ways they support nonprofits, so it’s really beneficial to be under their roof.
Q: What are your future goals and plans for Med City Foundation?
A: I think to establish ourselves as a recognized nonprofit that is benefiting our community in a sustainable way. I would like to think that some day when I’m not here, Med City Foundation still will be. Other specific goals would be addressing the lodging problem, and the experience patients have—whether they’re from here or not, that their non-medical needs and their non-medical experience is as of high quality as their medical experience.
Q: What can our readers do to help the people you help?
A: To acknowledge and be thinking about the experience that patients have outside the walls of Mayo Clinic. And be cognizant of that and look for ways to improve it and be a part of it. This is an industry to many of us—it gives us our jobs. But for patients, this is the worst time of their life. If we can look for less money-making opportunities and more opportunities to positively impact a life, we will all be better off in the end.
Interested in helping Med City Foundation with its mission?
Check out their wish list ( medcityfoundation.org) for items you can donate, including books, gift cards, and paper products. You can also donate online, by check (Med City Foundation, 3265 19th St NW), or by putting together your own fundraiser (contact email@example.com learn more).