The “First a Physician” Award was established to recognize a Twin Cities Medical Society member who selflessly gives of their time and energy for their patients or has made a positive impact on medicine or our community.
In her first year of practice before joining Fairview, Nancy Guttormson, MD, saw a 41-year-old patient with a large tumor where the esophagus joins the stomach. Standard treatment at the time was surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
Given the size of the tumor, she thought the best path would be to shrink it first, so it would be more manageable to remove and increase the chances of getting it all. Her local oncology group didn’t agree, so she went to the oncology team at another institution, where she found someone willing to try it.
“I felt a huge sense of responsibility,” Dr. Guttormson recalls. “He put his faith in me, and I had to put together the best plan I could. I pursued every option.”
Unfortunately, test results after the surgery revealed that a lymph node was cancerous as well.
Dr. Guttormson discussed the case with the outside oncology group, gave her patient another cycle of chemotherapy, and had him join a support group. She followed up with him every month, then every six months, then every year – knowing that this type of cancer was usually fatal.
“We celebrated every year when he came back,” Dr. Guttormson says. “I considered him a miracle.”
Ten years went by, and at a clinic visit, the patient told her he was the only survivor in his support group.
Though her patient moved away, it wasn’t the last time she heard from him. One day Dr. Guttormson received flowers and a note from Florida: "It has been 25 years today since you did my esophageal cancer surgery. I have five beautiful grandchildren I would have never met if it weren't for you. Thank you so much! – Richard Kaasa"
Ironically, Dr. Guttormson did only one other surgery of that kind. She went on to specialize in another type of surgery and became a leader and teacher as well. She has served as Chief of Staff at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville, helped establish the Breast Center, and is credited with pioneering the thyroid cancer program there.
Since 2011 alone, she has performed over 700 thyroidectomies and parathyroidectomies at Fairview Ridges, including 200 cases in just one year. A review of more than 100 consecutive parathyroid cases showed a less than 1 percent rate of “failure to cure” through surgery.
As her nomination letter for the “First A Physician” award put it: “These cases require precision, patience, and unique surgical skills -- for which Dr. Guttormson has gained wide recognition and respect. She is widely known for her attention to detail and for her commitment to follow up on case findings.”
“Dr. Guttormson’s patients love her. She is genuine and caring. She has several patients who she continues to follow. According to her, seeing them every year is like ‘Old Home Week,’ when they can catch up on each other’s lives. She says, ‘I’m amazed that they remember to ask me about this or that in my life, and I am thrilled to be able to see them moving on with their lives after cancer.’ “
“In today’s business of health care, Dr. Guttormson has somehow managed to provide quality specialized care in the good old family-physician-style where the patient comes first. “
In naming Dr. Guttormson the 2018 recipient of the “First A Physician” Award, the Twin Cities Medical Society Board of Directors said they were “honored to recognize this unsung hero for her dedicated and untiring service to the profession.”