Community Engagement Helps Young Patient leave Mayo Clinic in style after finishing cancer treatment

December 2, 2021

Matt Wiginton walked toward the doors that would take him out of Mayo Clinic Hospital, Saint Marys Campus, for what he hoped was the last time. He held a bouquet of flowers and his wife’s hand. The couple’s 3-year-old daughter, Vada, walked in front of them in a sparkly dress, a unicorn headband resting where her blonde hair used to be.

As the family walked out into the crisp October air, Vada rang a bell signifying the end of 46 grueling rounds of chemotherapy. But the sound was drowned out by the cheers of the crowd gathered to celebrate Vada and watch her leave the hospital in a vehicle befitting a princess.

“She is a princess,” Matt says. “And after all she’s been through, I knew we couldn’t just leave in our Subaru. I knew it had to be big. Life is simple and short — and I want it to be sweet.”

Instead of a Subaru, Matt had arranged to have Vada whisked away from the hospital in what looked like Cinderella’s carriage, horses and all.

“Seeing the look on Vada’s face when she saw that was magical,” Matt says. “Later in life, she’ll always cherish the memory of that day.”

“Vada hated being in the hospital,” Matt says. “It’s torture for an adult, let alone a kid.”

So when it was time for Vada to leave the hospital, Matt wanted the departure to be special. And he wanted it to be meaningful to his “smart, witty” daughter, whose current passions fall into two categories. “She plays princess all the time and pretends she’s a horse 10 times a day,” Matt says.

Leaving the hospital in a horse-drawn carriage would be perfect, he decided.

But it wouldn’t be easy.

“I called lots of places and told them Vada’s story, and what I wanted to do, but hit a lot of dead ends,” he says. Then, fittingly, Matt reached out to Cinderella Carriage. The owner offered her services for free.

Finally, Matt reached out to Mayo  Community Engagement staff for help with the logistics of bringing a team of horses onto campus.

“I got an email at 7:38 a.m. on a Friday morning, and by 10 a.m., we had a group dedicated to making sure this happened,” says Ken Ackerman, hospital administrator. “There’s not an organization with a better collective heart than Mayo Clinic.”

And so, on Thursday, Oct. 28, two black Percheron horses pulled a beautiful white carriage up to the doors at the Saint Marys Campus. There were cheers — and tears — all around as Vada and her parents climbed into the carriage that would carry them into their future.

Matt credits Mayo Clinic — and the support of family and friends — for “getting them through” Vada’s diagnosis and treatment.

“The staff at Mayo treat us like humans, not just a number,” Matt says. “And our family and friends have been amazing.”