An Afternoon of Hugs: Medtronic Workers Meet Patient Living with Device

An Afternoon of Hugs

Manufacturing employees get rare opportunity to meet patient benefiting from the heart device they made.

Jodi Helgeson never felt like a celebrity, until the day she walked into a Medtronic plant in Plymouth, Minnesota, and met the people who work there.

Diagnosed with heart problems as a child, Jodi had two open heart surgeries by age 13, and a third in 2014 when surgeons implanted a mechanical heart valve.

The valve was built by Medtronic employees who know their work touches patients, even if they never actually meet them in person.

That changed when Jodi visited the plant that made her valve.

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Jodi and husband Glenn touring the facility

“Anybody who knows me knows the difference that this surgery and my valve has made in my life,” Helgeson told the employees, who gathered to hear her speak. “I really appreciate and thank all of you for doing what you do, because I am an example to you that this does make a difference. Thank you.”

It’s rare for employees to actually meet patients.

In 11 years at the company, it was a first for Cheri Engler, who was emotional about the experience.

“I’m trying to think of the words. I don’t know if there are words. It’s very special,” she said through tears. “You think that it’s just a job and it’s really not.”

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Jodi holding a heart valve component

Chris Durga had never met a patient either, until he gave Jodi a hug during her walking tour of the plant.

“It was touching.  it was kind of hard to explain because, you know, every day we work on a product but we don’t get to see who the product goes to,” he said.

Employees at the plant make more than one thousand heart valves every week. Many of the most intricate steps are done by hand.

“I’m amazed at the brilliance of the people that work here,” Helgeson said. “And the dedication to help somebody else.”

Jodi called the plant tour a “once in a lifetime” event that she would never forget. The people who made her valve would say the same.