A Prom Promise Kept


As an 8-year-old girl from Michigan was headed into surgery for a heart transplant, she asked Mike Ackerman — a pediatric cardiology fellow at Mayo who was part of her care team — if she was going to live. Dr. Ackerman said, “Of course you’re going to live, and I’m going to dance with you at your prom.”

Ten years later — on April 25, 2009 — Dr. Ackerman flew to Michigan to surprise Stefani Pentiuk at her senior prom to fulfill a promise made years ago.

Dr. Michael Ackerman with Stefani

Dr. Michael Ackerman with Stefani

I work at Mayo Clinic in our Public Affairs Department. Specifically, I work on our media team, helping reporters connect with physicians for interviews. I have had the pleasure of helping share Stefani’s story.

Update June 5, 2005: Dr. Ackerman, Stefani and her parents were featured live in the studio with Harry Smith on the CBS Early Show this morning. See the segment.

I’ve known Dr. Ackerman for about three years, working with him on news releases for his research published in scientific journals and on patient stories with the media. What has struck me about Dr. Ackerman is how beautifully he connects with his patients and their family members. His interest in helping them and getting to know them is incredibly genuine — and his memory of his patients, their specific circumstances and personal stories is amazing. So when he told me about Stefani and that he was traveling to Michigan to surprise her at her prom, I was not surprised.

Stef First Surprise

On the Monday after prom, I talked to Stefani by phone. She told me that when she turned around and saw Dr. Ackerman at her prom, she immediately recognized him. “I would know him anywhere,” she said. And then she cried — which Stefani doesn’t do often. “I was so filled with emotion.”

After sharing a hug, Stefani’s principal announced that a song would be played for Stefani and her friend. Rascal Flatts’ “Bless the Broken Road” began playing.

Not long after the dance, Stefani’s dad, Perry, drove Mike five hours to Detroit to catch a plane to Florida, where he was speaking the next day. The group he was speaking to even rescheduled the time of Dr. Ackerman’s talk, enabling him to be at the prom the night before. Everyone but Stefani seemed to be in on this surprise — and helping to make it work.

But there’s more. Even before Dr. Ackerman entered little Stefani’s life, Mayo cardiologist Martha Grogan did. She has vacationed in Stefani’s town since she was a young girl herself. In 1999, friends told Dr. Grogan about this young girl who was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and may need a heart transplant. The friend encouraged her to call the Pentiuks. So on a day when Stefani’s mom, Heidi, was very worried about Stefani’s health, the phone rang, Dr. Grogan on the other line offering her help as a cardiologist. Eventually, she helped the Pentiuks, including older sister Anna, bring Stefani to Mayo. “I don’t feel like I was doing anything special,” Dr. Grogan said. “I just wanted to see if I could help.”

Both Dr. Ackerman and Dr. Grogan say they didn’t do anything special. Many beg to disagree. But part of the reason they say that, I think, is because of who they are personally but also because many people at Mayo — whether physicians, nurses or staff members at the front desk — go above and beyond. It’s part of the culture. This prom promise story is obviously a one-in-a-million story, but it’s also a reflection of what we are empowered to do here in our daily work at Mayo — to make a difference in a person’s life.

And it’s a keen reminder to all of us that there is power in words when a person is ill and needs to hear a caring, genuine and hopeful message.

To see more about Stefani’s story, see these features on WCCO-TV and KTTC-TV .

If you would like to share this story with friends, use the sharing toolbar below to post to Facebook or other sites, or simply copy and paste this URL into an email: http://bit.ly/Pwvpj

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36 Responses to “A Prom Promise Kept”

  1. Leah Ackerman Rohwer Says:

    I have read this story so many times and each time it brings tears to my eyes! I am so proud of my son! He has truly been blessed by God and he lives his life to serve Him!

  2. monique gribbins Says:

    there is absolutely no better doctor, there can be no one who genuinely cares for his patients the way he does…he saves lives…he saves hearts…he saves hope….

  3. Sue Urness Says:

    I am so honored to have Dr. Ackerman for my doctor. He is wonderful.
    He is caring for my daughter and grandson also.
    His concern is for his patients first.
    Love this story.

  4. TinyT Says:

    I think this is my story of the month! And it follows the quote :”Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

  5. jada Says:

    o my goodness that is so sweet he is a wonderful doctor i would of cried my heart out


  6. Mir Says:

    That was a great thing to do. I am glad that The doctor actually went to the prom!!

  7. Baby Doll Says:

    I saw the Early Show on Friday, June 5. Doctor Ackerman looks like Harry Smith. It was very nice he made time in his busy schedule to go to the prom.

  8. Katie Says:

    What an amazing story, it brought tears to my eyes. It really shows that there are truly good people out there.

  9. Carleen Says:

    How did he remember making that promise after 10 years?! It is an amazing story!

  10. kylee Says:

    awww that is so sweet that he kept his promise then surprised her! ❤

  11. PB Says:

    This is sweet!

  12. Simona Says:

    Very inspiring!! It makes me want to find a way to follow his lead…. how can we all “PAY IT FORWARD”? mmm…

  13. Eve Friedli Says:

    I’m a Mayo employee, and was so touched by reading this story that it made me cry.

    I’m also a cancer patient here at Mayo, and have found that the staff that’s treated me within the last six years at Mayo W10, Gonda 4S Gonda 10, RMH Station 9-4, and Charlton 9 have all been very warm, caring, and generally wonderful!!

  14. mary Says:

    To think he kept a promise made ten years ago.

  15. Lois Rowe Says:

    This was such a touching story to me. I work at Mayo Clinic in a cardiology lab and wanted to share my story and thoughts with Dr. Ackerman.

    I had surgery (minor in comparison) in my hometown many years ago when I was 6 years old. Back then parents were not allowed to go past the doors on the surgical floor. I was alone, frightened and just sobbing. I didn’t know what to expect. The surgeon already had his mask on when he leaned over my bed and told me to stop crying in a rather harsh tone. “I was too big to be crying like a baby,” he told me. I was so disturbed by that and obviously never forgot it.

    Because of your big heart this little girl was reassured that all would turn out fine.

    Thank you for being the kind and gentle doctor that you are.

  16. Pat Shelton Says:

    Geez, guys, tears in my eyes. Wish there were more folks like this, more stories like this.

  17. Jacques Simon Says:

    That’s what I can call a good service from the heart.
    Magnificent Doctor

  18. Laura Says:

    This is sweet!

  19. roqaya Says:

    LUCKYYY! i would ❤ love to find someone who keeps such fantastic promises!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  20. Desi Crew Says:

    I love Dr. Ackerman. He is wonderful. xx

  21. Tirzah Says:

    Wow! This story is very inspiring to me. I think it was very sweet for him to come to her prom and it touched me. I want to help people in this sameway. It shows a devoted doctor caring for his patient. What a great man.

  22. nicole Says:

    i would love to have a dr. like that and she is wearing a pretty dress.

  23. morgan Says:

    all i can say is oh my gosh that almost makes me want to cry!

  24. Bethany Says:

    By rearranging his schedule, he not only made one young woman’s day, but ultimately touched every person at that prom AND at the conference he spoke at the next day, reminding us all that it is putting people first that matters. It gives me hope in a time when so many are hopeless. Thank you, Dr. Ackerman! (You make Luther College proud!)

  25. Leah Vriesman Says:

    Nice going Mike. Nicest guy in medicine I know. Warm regards, Leah

  26. katie Says:

    THIS STORY ROCKS!!!!!!! 🙂 =)

  27. Twilight Says:

    What a kind man! i am glad we have people in our world like that

  28. Tina Uselman Says:

    This is the sweetest thing in the whole world. I am really happy for her

  29. Nina Says:

    very touching!!! he’s really a kind doctor:D

  30. Louise in Says:

    What a wonderful world we live in to have such compassionate people as Dr. Ackerman. I am confident that we have many, many Dr. Ackerman’s out there that also have beautiful stories to tell.

  31. Christopher Says:

    I guess this proves that doctors don’t have to be like “Gregory House” to get the job done. Great story!

  32. Marise Says:

    That is a very nice story, what’s more, it’s usually in a fairy tale. Most people don’t even keep a promise like that.

  33. Texas LisaRose Says:

    This story brought tears to my eyes. Being a former Michigander and now living in Houston…I hear over and over again about the wondrous Mayo Clinic in Rochester and how many lives are being helped by that Center and the kind doctors there. Every state needs a Mayo Clinic. Dr. Ackerman, you are what all doctor’s should be…A caring and loving physician.

  34. Serra Says:

    This is truly a beautiful, rare story. I am touched! Dr.Ackerman is one of a kind..:) Not every doctor would do the way he did.

  35. Lindsay Lebresco Says:

    What a beautiful story! Thanks to Dr. Ackerman I’m sure Stefani’s mom had a wonderful Mother’s Day as well. 🙂

  36. Norma Powers Says:

    This is so touching! What a wonderful Doctor.

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