Restored Knee Function Transforms Patient's Life and Inspires His Family to Give Back

Mayo Clinic benefactors James Reibel, M.D., and Barbara Reibel are not the type to slow down. They travel the world and have been actively engaged in a panoply of civic and community organizations.

Even in retirement, Dr. and Mrs. Reibel — or Jay and Barbara as their friends at Mayo Clinic have come to know them — are always on the go.

Chronic pain in both knees threatened Jay’s ability to continue his active lifestyle, and over time, it became almost debilitating. Jay had trouble climbing stairs, or even sitting for long periods. He couldn’t make it through an opera — a favorite activity — without rubbing his knees in pain. It was a constant distraction and a serious challenge.

Doctors in New York City, close to the Reibels’ home in Greenwich, Connecticut, were unable to find an answer or provide relief. Jay knew where he needed to go: Mayo Clinic.

Transformative Relief

The Reibels have a 25-year patient history with Mayo Clinic that began with Robert L. Frye, M.D., a cardiologist who led the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases (1974–1984) and the Department of Medicine (1987–1999). Their Mayo experiences have been overwhelmingly positive — so much so that they look forward to their visits, even in challenging circumstances.

“We love Mayo Clinic because from the very beginning of our experience it’s been so welcoming,” Barbara says. “We actually look forward to our visits. People usually don’t look forward to going to hospitals or clinics.”

Jay had heard about regenerative medicine techniques, including the use of a patient’s own stem cells, to restore knee function and alleviate pain. Shane A. Shapiro, M.D., medical director of the Regenerative Medicine Therapeutics Suites at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Florida, was the first researcher in the emerging field to lead a study on the safety and efficacy of the technique. Jay inquired about the procedure and was referred for treatment.

Jay’s results were almost beyond belief. “It was — and I don’t misuse the word or use it hyperbolically — transformative,” Jay says. “It was magical. Within a week, I had significant pain relief. And it continues now.”

The effect of the procedure was immediately apparent to Jay’s family and close friends.

“It would be really difficult watching him while he was in pain,” Jay’s daughter, Kate, says. “Now he’s able to do the things he loves to do again.”

Unique Perspectives

The incredible outcome for Jay was one among many positive experiences he and Barbara have had at Mayo Clinic.

As a result of their numerous outstanding interactions with Mayo, the couple decided to express their gratitude by becoming benefactors. Supporting Mayo Clinic’s Center for Regenerative Medicine was a natural fit for their philanthropic interests.

Before the Reibels committed to their philanthropic gift, they wanted to learn more. Jay has a unique perspective based on his personal experience in medicine and business.

Trained as a psychiatrist, Jay, early in his medical career, held several prominent positions on national and medical governing and advisory bodies, including the board of directors of Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Greater New York, the New York County Medical Society and the American Psychiatric Association, as well as a presidential appointment to the advisory body for Medicare and Medicaid. Jay applied his talent and experience to establish a system of high-quality private psychiatric hospitals, and he founded a publicly traded company that was the first managed care organization. His company grew to serve millions of people across the country.

Barbara also brought her unique perspective to studying the opportunity. During her career, she worked as a public health advisor for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

At Jay’s request, the Reibels spent two days at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus studying the Center for Regenerative Medicine from a clinical, organizational and business standpoint. They met with leaders including Gianrico Farrugia, M.D., Mayo Clinic president and CEO, who was CEO of the Florida campus at the time, and Andre Terzic, M.D., Ph.D., the Michael S. and Mary Sue Shannon Family Director for the Center for Regenerative Medicine.

They spent time with researchers, visited laboratories, and learned about the science behind new and emerging techniques that harness the body’s natural ability to heal. It was an introduction to what Mayo Clinic calls translational medicine — developments in the laboratory that are quickly translated to patient care improvements.

Something ‘Magical’

“We were beyond impressed,” Jay says. “The research that we saw being done was explained to us in a clear manner that we could understand. The teams of researchers with whom we met all evidenced their commitment to the ethos of Mayo Clinic and its profound commitment to excellence.”

Perhaps most important of all, the Reibels saw the immense impact regenerative medicine will have in the future, spanning medical specialties to improve the lives of patients, as well as reducing the economic burden that many patients, and our society, face today.

“I appreciate the importance of what is happening in regenerative medicine, not only to the lives of people but to the cost savings to the economy of the country,” Jay says. “The focus on getting the discoveries from the laboratory to application to the patient is wonderful. I’m an example of that.”

Mayo Clinic honors the Reibel family by recognizing them as Principal Benefactors. Through their experience in becoming Mayo Clinic benefactors, the Reibels have forged new relationships and personal friendships with leaders and researchers they have met.

“We value the personal relationships that we’ve developed. They’re stimulating, meaningful and very enjoyable,” Jay says.

These relationships add an invaluable dimension to the Reibels’ experiences at Mayo Clinic, and they are a reflection of Mayo’s commitment to values such as integrity, compassion and healing. It is apparent in every interaction, and it is what sets Mayo Clinic apart.

“There’s something magical about Mayo Clinic,” Barbara says. “It’s the staff, whether it be the top physicians, the nurses and physical therapists, or the clerks at the desk. Everyone we’ve encountered in all of our experiences has been so sweet and lovely and helpful. We can’t tell people enough how different Mayo Clinic is from any other medical institution with which we are familiar.”

Regenerative medicine focuses on developing and applying new treatments to heal tissues and organs and restore function lost due to aging, disease, damage or defects.

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