FULL CIRCLE: Former HCMC burn unit patient becomes doctor - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

FULL CIRCLE: Former HCMC burn unit patient becomes doctor

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Childhood experiences are integral in determining who adults will become, and that's certainly true of a man who was sent to the burn unit in his teens and grew into a doctor who now helps others recover there.

In the 90s, Jon Gayken fought for his life at the Hennepin County Medical Center -- but his journey has come full circle. Now, he's working there, helping others recover from similar struggles.

"It's been more than surreal, and more than I thought," he said.

Dr. Gayken told Fox 9 News this is his way of giving back, and he feels a personal connection to his patients in the burn unit because he knows what they are going through, and that sharing his first-hand experience can help them as they recover.

"When I was a patient here, it was 1994," he recalled.

At the age of 17, Gayken developed a rare and life-threatening blood infection called meningococcemia that caused his skin to die. He was taken to the burn unit and went through many skin grafts.

"I was scared," he admitted. "I could remember it like it was yesterday. I was very, very frightened."

Yet, the staff at HCMC -- including Dr. George Peltier -- were able to help him see it through.

"As he left the burn center last time in a wheelchair, he looked up and said, 'I'm going to work with you someday," Peltier recalled.

That was a promise Gayken kept, and the last three months have been amazing for him. He began working in the burn unit in August, and he's cherished every moment since.

"I think it's terrific," Peltier said. "It's very gratifying."

He's also working with the same nurses who cared for him 19 years ago.

"He definitely was a fighter," Margaret Brunner said. "He wanted to make it through."

In 39 years of nursing, Brunner said Gayken's arrival is a first.

"I've never worked with anybody that I have treated as a former patient," she said. "It's been a great experience."

While on the job, Gayken doesn't hide his past from his patients.

"I show them my scars almost every one of my patients," he said.

Gayken believes relating to his patients helps him provide better treatment, because he can commiserate with them through the most difficult procedures they'll endure.

"One of the worst memories I have when I was here is when I had that tube in my nose," he said. "I hated it."

For some patients, seeing what Gayken has become since his treatment inspires them, and keeps them looking toward tomorrow.

"If he can do it, I can do it," one of Gayken's patients said. "There is hope."

Not a morning goes by that Gayken doesn't look down at his scars, and they don't let him forget what he went through or where he came from. Working with his patients brings back those memories too.

"A lot of times, when you see the patients going through what they are going through, it seems like it was just a few minutes ago I was going through the same things," Gayken said.

But it's not for nothing, he says. In fact, it encourages his patients to keep fighting.

"Reminds you a little bit of why you get up and are going to do what you are going to do," he said.

Now that he's gone from patient to doctor, Gayken says he never takes a walk into the burn unit for granted. In fact, he says his greatest moment came when he saw his name on the came office door as Peltier.

"Every day, I come to work and I get a little smile," he said. "I can't always believe it's actually happened."

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