“This experience of cancer has taught me,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Yue in a video he prepared for the staff at Mercy Hospital, “that cancer is not the worst thing that can happen to you. It’s taught me a lot about humility, there is no set amount of love you can give, no amount of relationships that you can build. It’s not just our patients that will benefit, it’s us, and our wives, and our kids who will all benefit. We just need to work with each other and practice, tap into it and share.”*
“What would Dr. Yue do?”
With fondness and respect, this became a mantra at Mercy Hospital where Dr. Jeffrey Yue, Chief of Staff and Medina resident, was responsible for providing leadership and guidance to the medical staff as well as promoting effective communication between the staff, administration and the board of trustees.
“You gotta do the work,” Jeff always said according to his wife Suzann. “He said, ‘if you want to go places. You gotta do the work. Take an interest in people. Have respect. Get going.’” Dr. Jeff Yue lived his life this way, giving everyone he came into contact with the same amount of interest, time and energy no matter how old they were, where they lived or what their title.
Destined to be a Doc
Since he was five years old, Jeff knew he wanted to be a doctor. “There was no choice,” Suzann recalled Jeff stating. “It was never whether he was going to be a doctor, it was what kind he wanted to be.” Growing up amidst physicians in both his mother’s and father’s families, Jeff developed a love for the medical field at an early age. As did his father, Jeff decided on the field of anesthesiology. He was so well-known for his steady hands, many of the nurses at Mercy would schedule their C-sections around Jeff’s calendar.
Jeff Yue grew up on a quiet part of Lake Minnetonka. In an interview with his daughter, Kaia, he spoke fondly of his early childhood in the 60’s. “It was a great place to grow up. My most favorite memory was playing in the lake, fishing, swimming, catching turtles. It was so fun!”
After graduating from Minnetonka High School, Jeff went on to obtain his undergraduate degree with cum laude honors at Augsburg College, then his medical degree at the University of Minnesota Medical School where he was awarded membership in the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. He finished his medical studies with a residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee whereupon which he received the Ernest O. Henschel, MD Memorial Award for Outstanding Resident. Jeff secured a position at Mercy, Unity and Cambridge Hospitals as an anesthesiologist in 1990, and through many active leadership roles on multiple committees and boards through the years, he landed at the helm of Mercy Hospital as Chief of Staff. His peers recognized him as a Top Doctor in MplsStPaul Magazine in 2003 and 2009. Many spoke of Jeff’s energy as contagious, “When he walked into a room, you could almost visibly feel the energy shift,” Suzann said. “You just knew he was going to take care of things and something would get done. He is described by his staff and all that knew him as an amazing leader.”
Suzann described a man who seemed larger than life. “He was a LEGEND!” she exclaimed. “We met and were married later in life, and we never fought. It was important to Jeff that we lived our lives doing what mattered to us, both as individuals and together. It was about respect.” Suzann said she and Jeff both believed it isn’t just about love, because love can come and go, you can love someone but not necessarily respect them. You can dislike someone but still respect them. To Jeff Yue it was imperative to respect patients, respect coworkers, respect everyone you connect with because if you have respect, everything will work out. “It was like that in our marriage too. Jeff and I have always said, ‘if it’s important to you, then do it. If you want to go hunting in Newfoundland, do it. If you want a massage today, do it. Why fight about it, why take something away from someone you love if it’s important to them, and it doesn’t really affect you? Go do it! That was the number one reason we never fought. Respect.”
His family and hunting were his two loves. In the interview with Kaia, she asks her dad what he considered to be a perfect day? “My perfect day is being somewhere hunting, I love the feeling of solitude, being away from civilization. That is a feeling that is hard to get, there’s a certain feeling in nature that is special. My other perfect day is when all five kids are together, hearing you all laugh, listening to how you talk to each other. As a dad, I think of what little part I’ve had.”
Although on top of his medical career, Jeff also had a sense of fun and lived life to its fullest. From hunting and camping with friends like Shorty Dorweiler (owner of Farmers State Bank of Hamel) and mutual friend Dr. Randy Chadwick to running and triathlon with Gear West in Long Lake, his diverse interests and easy going nature attracted people to him like a magnet. Dr. Chadwick shared, “We went on two to three hunting trips every year for 20 years to North Dakota, South Dakota, Saskatchewan, Colorado and Montana. At the beginning it was about getting the birds, but through time it became more about getting away.” Jan Guenther, Gear West owner noted, “Jeff felt it was important to support the local businesses he believed in and he wore the Gear West race singlet with an enthusiastic smile in all the local races. Oddly enough, without planning it, I would end up running most of Three River’s Spring Trail Mix runs with Jeff. The race was forgotten as we had a blast talking about health, fitness and kids and a zillion interesting other topics.”
Chief of Staff
When Jeff was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago this past May, he learned what it was like to be a patient versus as the anesthesiologist he had been for 28 years as he underwent three surgeries in an attempt to remove a tumor from his chest. All throughout Jeff acted as a leader, mentoring his staff through videos. “Good medical care looks like communication between caregivers, communication to the patient, enforcing communication back from the patient,” Dr. Jeff Yue gently coaches. “If we don’t encourage patients to ask the questions, we may never know what they need to know to help themselves get better. You would think as a caregiver I would know, but either I didn’t know or I needed confirmation myself. Good care is remembering each patient is a brother, sister, mother, father, son, wife and we need to treat those people like we would want to be treated.”*
“The coordination of care between the campuses we have and developing a system to appropriately triage the patients to the site where they will receive the best care,” Dr. Yue continues. “As a patient, I didn’t really get it until I got it. What this means is that when you are laying in that bed and all these people are coming and doing things to you, there is a sense of vulnerability that if you don’t recognize it in that patient, it can really crush them. They are totally dependent on you. When I came out of surgery I felt so weak, like a fragile little baby only it was worse because I knew what I couldn’t do. But patients don’t know what they are in for, it is very important we really make a patient feel they are cared for. There was one particular aid who, every time she came into my room, would talk with me as if we’d been friends for 30 years. It really made me feel like she cares about me.”
Suzann believes fully that Jeff came to this earth to be a doctor. “Jeff believed his role as leader of the anesthesiology group was an important part of the hospital. His role as chief of staff was to bring everyone together, to work together. With the many medical groups that are contracted in, one needs to be a leader. Jeff was a doctor first, even before a family member, a friend, a hunter, a runner. His love for life was as a doctor.
Celebration of His Life
Jeff’s passion was apparent at his untimely celebration of life this past January when, at the age of 59, 550+ family, friends and colleagues attended to say goodbye and to show their respect for Dr. Yue. Like his life, Dr. Jeff Yue’s Celebration of Life was untraditionally festive. The church asked Suzann, “‘What hymns and organ music would you like?’ And I said, ‘oh no!’ There was motown music, alcohol and great food at Leopold’s Mississippi Gardens with violins and bagpipes and over 550 people partying in his honor. He was absolutely a bright light and is so so missed. Following the celebration, our entire family was in awe of what just happened.”
“Life is made up of a bunch of accumulated moments. If we can continue to pile on those accumulated good moments, then we have a good life. It’s not that hard to do,” Dr. Jeffrey Yue advised his staff on another video. “I thought I was doing a pretty good job beforehand. After I got sick I had an entirely different perspective on what I could give as a caregiver to a patient. Even just a small amount of comfort, a small amount of added confidence that someone really cared for them. So how that translates now is more…mindful. With the medical care, the social care makes me feel better. Maybe it doesn’t cure me, but it makes me feel better. That means a lot. Just knowing people are looking out for you, you can’t put the value on that, it’s so high.”**
“I remember Jeff saying to me, and now I keep saying to the kids,” Suzann states quietly yet with an unmistakable certainty, “‘Honey, we’re going to abide by what the Lord has given us, and I promise you, everything is going to be okay. With me or without me, everything is going to be okay.’ There aren’t too many people like Jeff Yue, he was a legend.”
See Jeff Yue’s videos for the Mercy Hospital’s staff: