One advantage Mayo Clinic has over other destination medical centers is a strong local heritage — multiple generations who built the medical center from the ground up.

In the lobby of Rochester's Mayo Building sits the original horse-drawn ambulance used by Dr. Will and Dr. Charlie Mayo.

Mayo Clinic has documentation of a personal connection to that ambulance.

Rochester resident Edna Spika in 2008 mentioned in an article about her 100th birthday celebration (a hot-air balloon ride) that she had needed to ride in the ambulance when she was 5 years old so she could get her tonsils removed.

When clinic officials connected with Spika, they were able to confirm that, indeed, she had her tonsils removed 95 years earlier. Spika, who is since deceased, was invited to view the ambulance firsthand and have her portrait taken with it — more than nine decades later.

"She was a little girl when Woodrow Wilson was president," said Matt Dacy, Mayo's Heritage Hall director. "This has become just iconic of what Mayo stands for."

Few medical centers have that type of personal connection to their patients, said Dacy. It speaks to Mayo's "the needs of the patient come first" philosophy.

"We tell people technology will always change, but the mission will never change," Dacy said.

He reminds visitors that the Mayo brothers gave their life savings back to the people of Minnesota by creating the Mayo Foundation and gifting both of their homes.

The commitment of grateful patients is unlike at any other destination medical center. At Mayo Clinic, the Mayo brothers often took care of patients' bills entirely during the Great Depression. Decades later, many of those patients repaid the clinic by making substantial donations once they had regained their financial standing.

"We have had kids who run a lemonade stand and give all their earnings," Dacy said. The vast majority of financial gifts to Mayo Clinic are less than $1,000 apiece, he said.

That, Dacy said, happens because it doesn't matter if you're a Saudi oil minister or a youngster from the street corner — everybody gets the same care.

Mayo "blue coats" greet guests at the Gonda Building's west entrance. The minute the door opens, there's a human being to greet you, Dacy said.

The concept Mayo lives by is that "healing begins when you walk in the front door."

"This is meant to be a calm, soothing environment," Dacy said. He does not apologize for the opulence of red marble from spain and natural materials imported from countries like Bolivia and Greece. That's part of the healing environment.

"It's soothing. It's comforting to people," Dacy said.

The number-one question asked by visitors to the clinic is, "are there any Mayos at the Mayo Clinic?"

"It shows this hunger for the Mayo Clinic. They're hungry for Mayo Clinic connections," Dacy said. Indeed, at least one Mayo descendent is employed at the clinic in Rochester. But none perform surgery as in earlier generations.

Visitors at Heritage Hall can see video of the Mayo brothers on one of their boats, something that can help personalize them as humans instead of iconic figures.

Visitors can also visit Dr. Will's original office in the Plummer Building.

Few destination medical centers can say that the their progenitors mortgaged the family home to buy the height of technology at the time — a microscope in 1870 — "to give the best care to their patients."

"We're built on a family that did everything they could do to give the best care to patients," Dacy said. According to Dacy, that's the kind of heritage that can be matched no place else.

"In a larger sense, we're all the inheritors of what Mayo Clinic gave us," he said.

Health reporter Jeff Hansel writes the Pulse on Health column every Monday. Follow him on Twitter @JeffHansel.

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