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Bob Bardwell with daughters Hannah Christenson, D.P.T., Lydia Bardwell Speltz, Ph.D., Abby Bardwell, D.O., and Birdie Bardwell Koneczny, R.N., CRRN
Bob Bardwell with daughters Hannah Christenson, D.P.T., Lydia Bardwell Speltz, Ph.D., Abby Bardwell, D.O., and Birdie Bardwell Koneczny, R.N., CRRN.

June 18, 2024

By Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science staff

Growing up, the Bardwell sisters — Hannah, Lydia, Abby, and Birdie — had front-row seats to the healthcare system. Their father was paralyzed in a construction accident. After witnessing the important role his care teams played in his life, each of the sisters decided to pursue a career in healthcare.

Hannah Christenson, D.P.T., grew up aware of her father's daily challenges and health needs as a person living with paraplegia. Her father, Bob Bardwell, was paralyzed in an accident at a construction site 50 years ago and received care at Mayo Clinic ever since.

Seeing her father's improvements following physical therapy, she felt inspired to explore a career path in the field that had enhanced his well-being.

"He was working with physical therapists frequently to gain function and strength, and to optimize mobility. I saw the treatment as an asset to his quality of life and wanted to pursue it," Christenson says.

"That was our world growing up. We all saw how different medical specialties helped him," Christenson, the eldest of four sisters, told KTTC in Rochester in a special segment that ran in honor of Father's Day.  

The experience would have a lasting impact on father and daughters.

Path to physical therapy role

After she became interested in physical therapy, Christenson shared that interest with Jim Youdas, a now-retired Mayo physical therapist and faculty member. He encouraged her to apply to Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences.

"Mayo's reputation is incredible, of course. Wanting to go to PT school here was always the dream," she says.

And the experience lived up to those hopes.

"It was a wonderful experience," Christenson says. "The small classes optimized our clinical experience, and the teachers knew me as a person. They developed a high level of professionalism in us as clinicians."

As a physical therapist, Christenson now sees Mayo patients with a broad range of physical issues and disabilities. And she's not the only one in her family to be doing so.

Her sisters, triplets Abby Bardwell, D.O., Birdie Bardwell Koneczny, R.N., CRRN, and Lydia Bardwell Speltz, Ph.D., have followed in her footsteps.

Hannah Christenson, D.P.T.

Hannah Christenson, D.P.T.

Physical therapist

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic

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Abby Bardwell, D.O.

Abby Bardwell, D.O.

Resident, Orthopedic Surgery

Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education

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Birdie Bardwell Koneczny, R.N., CRRN

Birdie Bardwell Koneczny, R.N., CRRN

Outpatient float nurse, Mayo Clinic

Formerly in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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Lydia Bardwell Speltz, Ph.D.

Lydia Bardwell Speltz, Ph.D.

2024 graduate, Biomedical Engineering and Physiology graduate track

Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

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A family tradition

Though each sister chose her own path, all four now care for patients at Mayo Clinic. That gives them opportunities to meet up on campus for coffee or a break, and to share information with each other about healthcare topics.

"Having a resident, PT, engineer, and nurse in the same family gives me a bigger picture of the medical field and how everyone plays a part in making a patient experience successful," says Bardwell Koneczny, a registered nurse whose interest in healthcare began in high school.

"Through the years, I developed a strong desire to become a nurse and work with people with spinal cord injuries and specialize in rehabilitation nursing," she says.  

Once she earned her degree, Bardwell Koneczny joined Mayo, first working in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and now serving as an outpatient float nurse.

"Mayo does an excellent job in promoting education and specialization in the areas you work in," she says. "While I was working in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, I went back and got my CRRN (Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurse certificate) to strengthen my expertise in rehab nursing."

Inspired to serve others

In addition to witnessing their father's experiences as a patient, the sisters had an up-close view of his professional life. Bob Bardwell founded Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch in Stewartville, Minnesota, and established a weeklong summertime wheelchair sports camp.

His daughters volunteered at the camp, an experience that led Dr. Bardwell to pursue a career in medicine.

"The camp every summer is one of my sisters and my favorite week each year," she says. "I was always inspired by how my dad and the campers live each day to the fullest despite their challenges. We also witnessed some of the health setbacks many of them experience and how world-class healthcare can change their life. Because of this experience growing up, I knew I wanted to be a doctor and serve people with the gifts I have been given."

After earning a medical degree in Iowa, Dr. Bardwell is now a resident in orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education.

"I always knew Mayo would be my dream spot to train for residency," she says. "Once I was exposed to orthopedic surgery, I realized how this unique field can allow people to gain their function and independence back, and serve a multitude of patient populations.

"I am grateful to be training at the best orthopedic surgery residency program in the world," Dr. Bardwell says.

Aiming to transform lives

When Dr. Speltz graduated from Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in May, she became the latest member of her family to enter her chosen field.

As a young student, she excelled in math and physics and was motivated by her father's challenges. These interests and abilities led her to pursue a career as a researcher in biomedical engineering.

"I had seen how biomedical research can help transform lives, and I wanted the opportunity to contribute," she says. "Applying math and engineering principles to the medical field seemed like a perfect opportunity."

As a Ph.D. student in the Biomedical Engineering and Physiology graduate track, she tested new applications of high-resolution MRI to determine whether the imaging can be used safely for people with pacemakers and other implanted devices. Dr. Speltz is now a postdoctoral fellow at Mayo and aims to develop medical technology to improve the lives of patients.

Another set of Mayo siblings

While the sisters recognize their family's situation is unique, they know it's not unprecedented. Sibling bonds are part of the Mayo tradition, Christenson points out.

"Watching each of my sisters pursue their passion and give back to patients in their own way is so special," she says. "I am grateful to Mayo for training three of us and employing us four. I hope we do well by the Mayo brothers and daily put the needs of our patients first."

This article was originally published on In the Loop, a blog that gives a unique perspective on what’s happening around Mayo Clinic and beyond.