CNN’s two-part series, “Escape from the Mayo Clinic,” told the story of a caper straight out of a movie plot.
There was Alyssa Gilderhus, an 18-year-old high school senior from Sherburn, who was recovering from a Christmas Day aneurysm at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic. There was her mother, Amber Engebretson, who reportedly had been badgering doctors with questions and suggestions for Alyssa’s care until she was barred from the hospital.
Requests for transfer to a new facility had been denied, and behind the scenes, Mayo had been filing for emergency guardianship for Alyssa. Looking back, her family says if something hadn’t been done, they might have lost her forever.
So the scheme was hatched. They feigned a visit from Alyssa’s frail Grandma Betty, who was too weak to make the trip to the hospital room. Then they wheeled Alyssa down to the parking lot, where her mother was waiting with a van, and swept her inside. She was finally going home, her mother promised. They sped away.
Mayo called the police to report a patient abduction, but officers said they couldn’t see any foul play. This was just an adult patient leaving the hospital with the help of her family.
But now that cinematic tale of maternal heroism has been called into question.
When the article was first released, Mayo was a mostly silent figure in the story. Yesterday, the hospital fired back, saying it’s “inaccurate” and “irresponsible,” and “lacks context that CNN was provided, but chose not to investigate or report.”
Mayo describes a four-hour meeting between the hospital and CNN reporters before the story was published, in which doctors gave their side of the story. They worried Amber was unwilling to learn to care for her daughter once Alyssa was released, that she’d resisted the doctor’s advice to take Alyssa off opioids, even that she was “physically aggressive” with Mayo staff.
Mayo spokesperson Ginger Plumbo says Amber yelled at staff to “get the fuck out of the room” numerous times, grabbed a doctor by the arm and “seemed ready to throw a punch,” and requested narcotics even though Alyssa hadn’t reported excess pain. Plumbo says Amber told the doctors that she “wanted to get some sleep” and so asked for Alyssa to be sedated.
MPR also reports that last month, a Martin County judge ordered Alyssa’s five younger half-siblings be removed from Amber’s care, citing allegations of neglect and abuse—both emotional and physical. In late July, when a county official stopped by their Sherburn home to see whether any abuse was happening, Amber tested positive for methamphetamines and amphetamines. The kids were placed in the care of Alyssa’s stepfather, Duane Engebretson.
That’s why Mayo says doctors kicked Amber out and requested emergency guardianship for Alyssa. They say she was a vulnerable adult who could not make her own medical decisions, and they thought she needed someone more responsible than Amber to make them for her.
Mayo did receive a request for a transfer to a different hospital, but they say the family didn’t specify where they wanted to send Alyssa. After the doctors developed a new care plan, the family said they’d no longer require a transfer.
Mayo says CNN knew about all this, and even alleges that reporters knew about the family’s plan to spirit Alyssa away from the hospital before it happened.
“We provided a lot of information about the mother’s abuse on the daughter,” Plumbo says. “We provided all that background to CNN, and they ignored it and released the story anyway.”
Duane and Amber are reportedly separated now, but he told MPR News he stands by the CNN story and never saw Amber hurt Alyssa. Neither Amber, Duane, nor CNN have responded to City Pages’ requests for comment.
CNN says Mayo’s written response was inaccurate and incomplete, but hasn’t corrected any specific aspect of the statement. Plumbo says the news agency hasn’t been in touch with them, and they don’t have any plans to initiate legal action. They ordinarily wouldn’t be revealing any of this information due to patient privacy policies, but the CNN story was a special circumstance.
“Our primary concern for this patient all along was her safety and her care,” she says. “We really took this unusual step so the truth would be known.”