Minnesota woman delayed transplant treatment shows healthcare struggles

Delayed treatment for an immunocompromised Minnesota woman highlights a serious problem at hospitals here and across the country.

Melanie Wickersheim has had two heart transplants and a kidney transplant, so she monitors her health carefully.
When signs of kidney distress were followed by vomiting and diarrhea, Wickersheim called 911 for the first time in her life – then boarded an ambulance headed for the M Health Fairview emergency room.

"I thought I would go straight in," she told FOX 9 of the experience. "That's usually how it goes. If you're in an ambulance, you're kind of a priority."

Wickersheim is also usually a priority because she’s a multiple transplant patient.

But on this ER visit, she sat in a wheelchair alongside her sleepy daughter and waited as the symptoms continued to dehydrate her.

"I ended up soiling myself for five hours, again and again in that wheelchair, in front of the rest of the hospital waiting room," she said.

She wouldn’t find out her diagnosis for a while longer, but Wickersheim now worries she was spreading norovirus as her sickness went uncontrolled.

When she finally got in for treatment, she says doctors immediately wanted to admit her to the hospital, but said there were no beds. Ultimately she spent three days on an ER gurney.

"It's definitely not an isolated case," she said.

Overwhelmed hospitals are not exactly unusual.

Leaders at the Minnesota Hospitals Association have cited a shortage of healthcare workers and a lack of space to move patients to nursing homes and mental health facilities.

In January, M Health Fairview opened a 16-bed "short-stay observation unit" in Maplewood to address the issue.

But for now, Wickersheim’s worried hospitals won’t be able to treat patients fast enough.

"It's not fair to the people who are coming in for care," she said. "It wasn't fair to me that day for my safety. And it's certainly not fair to the hospital staff, the nurses and doctors who are working down there, who are bearing the brunt of it because the rest of the hospital is so full."

M Health Fairview has yet to return calls from FOX 9, but has said they had a 12% increase in ER visits since 2022 at their hospital in Maplewood.