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Dr. Laura Nelson: following in her grandfather’s footsteps

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  As a parent or grandparent, you just never know for sure what kind of an influence shared activities will have on children.

For Dr. Laura Nelson, it was looking at X-rays with her grandfather, Dr. Allen Limberg, while visiting her grandparents in Glenwood City.

Dr. Nelson is the third generation of the Limberg family to practice medicine. She and her husband, Dr. Drew Nelson — both emergency room physicians — are employed at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic Health System in Menomonie.

Dr. Laura Nelson’s mother, Nancy Limberg Kohlhepp, has worked at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire (Luther) since 1974, first as a nurse’s aid while going to nursing school at UW-Eau Claire, and then for the past 26 years in the endoscopy lab.

“It has been fun over the years to come in contact with people from the Glenwood City area. It makes the world a little smaller,” Kohlhepp said.

Dr. Allen Limberg, and his brother, Dr. Phil Limberg, served the Glenwood City community for 40 years. Both doctors have been named to the Red Cedar Medical Center’s Hall of Fame Honor Roll. Dr. Phil passed away in 1985, and Dr. Allen died in 2007. Dr. Phil and his wife, Roberta, moved to Glenwood City in 1946, and Dr. Allen and his wife, Ruth, moved to Glenwood City in 1950.

Dr. Nelson says she does not remember a time when she did not want to be a doctor.

“I always wanted to be a doctor from my earliest memory. I remember in high school shadowing in some different aspects of medicine, but it just confirmed my true desire and dream was to become a doctor,” she said.

Dr. Allen, as many people in the Glenwood City area will remember him, had much to do with that.

“My grandfather technically retired when I was quite young but you could tell he was still very passionate about medicine. When I would go stay at their house, he would bring out a light box, and we would look at X-rays on the kitchen table. This was one of my favorite things to do with him. He would describe each one to me and show me what was wrong if I couldn’t tell,” Dr. Nelson recalled.

“I also remember stepping in some glass while I was visiting my grandparents in Glenwood City. My grandpa carried me to the ‘pink’ bathroom at their house and put on his magnification glasses and spent hours digging glass out of my foot. Everywhere we would go in town everyone knew ‘doc,’ and I was so proud of him and the relationships he developed with his patients. I could see their respect for him, but what impacted me even more was the passion and the love that he had and passed on to me for medicine,” she said.

Dr. Nelson’s mother also noted that special bond Dr. Allen had with his patients.

“There is a special bond that goes back to the Dr. Allen era in Glenwood City. He would make house calls 24/7. If a woman was in labor, many times he would pick her up at her house and take her to Menomonie. He would explain, ‘I had to go there anyway to deliver the baby!’ The father would come after he finished his milking chores. It was not uncommon for him to take mom and baby home after making rounds and discharging them also,” Kohlhepp said.

“One time after a huge snowstorm, Dr. Allen received a phone call to make a house call just outside of Glenwood City. After getting two vehicles stuck in the snow, he had his three sons shovel them out. He came in the house and called for Nancy to drive him on the snowmobile. The family at the house was SO shocked to see us in that weather!” she said.

Dr. Nelson also remembers Dr. Allen’s devotion to his family.

“Other things I remember about my grandpa in general was that he loved his family. He would make my grandma breakfast every morning. He would make malts, for everyone! They actually had a malt machine in their house, and as a grandchild, this was very exciting. When we would get to their house late at night, he would say, ‘they can have a little milkshake before bed.’ My mom once told me she learned to pick her battles. My grandpa could be very stubborn,” Dr. Nelson said.

More connections

Dr. Nelson and her husband welcomed their daughter, Elsie Autumn Nelson, into the world on January 28, 2015, at Luther Hospital in Eau Claire — which is where Dr. Nelson was born.

But it gets even better.

Elsie, whose due date was January 28, was actually born on Dr. Allen Limberg’s birthday.

“My dad, Terry Kohlhepp, me and now my daughter Elsie were all born there. I then grew up in Eau Claire going to Sherman Elementary School, Delong Middle School and then Memorial High School,” Dr. Nelson said.

“Laura also has Manz relatives who have strong ties to Mayo,” noted Dr. Nelson’s mom.

“Laura’s Grandma Margery Manz Kohlhepp is related to Drs. Walton, Carl, Jim and Sharon. LaVonne Kohlhepp is also related. She has a cousin, Betsy Thewis, and her husband, Chris, who are recently employed at Mayo. What a wonderful place to be employed,” Nancy Kohlhepp said.

Med school

Dr. Nelson earned her undergraduate degree at Western State College of Colorado in Gunnison, Colorado, and then went to medical school at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, Florida.

She did her residency in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at St. Luke’s Hospital, which is where she met her husband, Drew Nelson.

The hardest part about medical school was “the amount of information you had to learn. People often describe medical school as drinking out of a fire hose. The human body is so fascinating but so complex, and then, no two people are the same,” Dr. Nelson said.

Dr. Nelson and her husband decided to practice medicine in Wisconsin because of family.

“Family brought us to Wisconsin. I grew up with a very close relationship to both my mom’s family, the Limbergs, and my dad’s family, the Kohlhepps. I have a great relationship with my aunts, uncles, cousins and of course my grandparents. I wanted this same upbringing for our family. Also, after living all across the country, nothing beats the friendly people — and the cheese of Wisconsin,” Dr. Nelson said.

Kelly

Dr. Nelson’s mother shared a story that illustrates her daughter’s determination to become a doctor and to not be afraid to speak up for herself.

During Dr. Nelson’s medical rotation, “she was assisting with a difficult long surgery. The first surgeon had finished his part. The second surgeon was quite ‘strict’ and liked to ask the students questions,” Nancy said.

“Laura was to suction as needed. The surgeon asked Laura a question, but just then she needed to suction, so she was concentrating on that, but then the surgeon said quite firmly, ‘Kelly!’ Laura said, ‘My name is Laura.’ The surgeon was going to have to do an evaluation on Laura, and she did not want the eval to be on Kelly. She then proceeded to answer the question correctly. There was silence as the surgery continued, but then it dawned on Laura that the surgeon had wanted a Kelly clamp at the tense time. She proceeded to say, ‘I realize now that you wanted a Kelly clamp but I bet you will think of me whenever you use one in the future.’ After that he asked for ‘a Laura,’ Nancy recalled.

ER

A person would not have to think about it for very long to know that being a medical doctor is a challenging profession.

Serving as an emergency room physician seems as if it would be just that much more challenging.

Dr. Nelson says becoming an emergency room physician was a natural progression for her.

“I always seemed to be the go-to person in a crisis. If someone got hurt, I would want to help them. This progressed to volunteer work in the hospital, and eventually I worked as a unit clerk in an ER in college,” Dr. Nelson said.

“They knew I wanted to become a doctor so the nurses and techs and doctors there all let me be very hands on and exposed me to all aspects of emergency medicine. I loved it. You never knew what would walk in the door or what your day would look like. This love just grew and grew with more exposure, and finally in medical school, I just knew there was no other choice for me,” she said.

“Emergency medicine is a challenging field but my husband and I both could not be happier working for Mayo in both Menomonie and Eau Claire. We love the mix and the balance of the two locations. The staff has been so wonderful and welcoming, and we truly feel we are home,” Dr. Nelson said.

“It is fun to run into patients that my grandpa delivered and people that know not just me as a doctor, but me as a person,” she said.

“I know Laura’s Grandpa Dr. Allen would be so proud of Laura fulfilling her dream. I had to smile when we heard that Laura and Drew (were) expecting their first child with the expected due date of January 28, Dr. Allen’s birthday,” Nancy Kohlhepp said.

And even though it is many years off yet, who knows?

Perhaps Elsie Autumn Nelson will follow in her family’s footsteps to become the fourth generation to serve in the medical profession.