Sarah Gutknecht Passes Away

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Sarah Gutknecht

Sarah Gutknecht passed on August 24th, after a battle with pancreatic cancer, surrounded by family at her home.  A Memorial Service will be held at 2 PM Sunday, Sept 17, 2017, at the McNamara Alumni Center on the campus of the University of Minnesota.  A reception will follow the service.  Here is the message posted to CaringBridge announcing Sarah’s passing and her Obituary:

Leaping into the Next Adventure

Now it is our turn to be open to new and exciting adventures as we say goodbye to our life on earth with Sarah. Sarah passed away peacefully at home last evening, with Ann, and her sisters, Julie and Amy by her side.

Sarah has forever changed each and every one of us, making us the best version of ourselves. Whether she has encouraged and supported us, been a rock for us, made us feel amazing, cared for us, or inspired us.

“Your smile and eyes, the windows into a soul with infinite power to heal and love.” such a perfect description of Sarah by Noelle Robichon.

Sarah will always be with us. She will live on through us. Sarah will be waiting for us, for an interval, just around the corner.

Here is to a new beginning.

Sarah would encourage us to move forward, press on, living with her spirit guiding us. Whether it be feeling free to dance like no one is watching, loving with your whole heart, sharing your gifts selflessly, or living like there is no tomorrow.

Obituary:

Sarah M. Gutknecht

  • Sarah M. Gutknecht

Gutknecht, Sarah M. Age 54 of Mpls, passed away with family at her side on August 24, 2017 from pancreatic cancer. After accumulating several undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota, Sarah found her true passion in nursing, and was in the first class of students to earn a doctorate in Nursing Practice from the U of M.

She began her career as a nurse practitioner at Shriners Hospital for Children in Minneapolis and then moved to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St Paul. Sarah’s infectious smile, boundless energy, and ability to charm even the most apprehensive child made her well loved by colleagues and patients alike. She loved having a job that allowed her to interact with children. She often said that she could not believe that she got paid to sit on the floor and play with children all day.

She was a skilled leader which led to involvement in organizations both locally and nationally. Among these was the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board, including a stint as Chair. She was also a member of the boards of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners, Institute for Pediatric Nursing, Minnesota International Health Volunteers, and Ready Set Smile. Her career earned her awards for the Distinguished Nurse of the Year from the March of Dimes, Minnesota Chapter; the President’s Award from the Minnesota Chapter of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioners; Distinguished Alumni Humanitarian Award from the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, and this year the Donna Poe Davis Award for Excellence in Nursing from Operation Smile.

Sarah had a strong desire to use her knowledge and skills to help others. She went on nearly 30 missions around the world with Operation Smile (cleft lip and palate repair) and with Healing Hands for Haiti. She joked that only Antarctica did not need her help because penguins don’t have lips. She made time for fun traveling to all seven continents, skating inline marathons, biking, cross country skiing, and taking photographs.

Above all, she was devoted to her family and an inspiration to her nieces and nephews. Sarah is survived by her spouse, Ann Kools, parents Arthur and Suzanne Gutknecht, brother Scott (Joni) Gutknecht, sisters Anne (Michael) Schreck, Julie (Donald) Savelkoul, Amy (Steven) Nelson and nieces and nephews, Megan Greengard, Erin Gutknecht, Caitlin Schreck, Lisa Schreck, Sarah Savelkoul, Hannah Savelkoul, Emily Nelson, Clare Nelson, Anthony Schreck, Alexander Schreck, Michael Savelkoul, Samuel Nelson and her faithful dog Otto. Plans for a Celebration of Life are pending. Memorials preferred to Operation Smile or the Animal Humane Society.

Sarah the Inliner

Sarah was a longtime inline skater and had been a member of the Midwest Skate Club, Media Machine, and Max Muscle.   She was a dominant age group skater that had frequently been found on podiums with a large smile, including just a couple of seasons ago at the Minnesota Half (photo below).  She established a reputation as a friendly, outgoing, and approachable skater.  For over a decade she had been a pediatric nurse at Gillette Children’s Hospital working with children afflicted with cerebral palsy, spina bifida, juvenile arthritis, and many other conditions I could neither pronounce nor spell.  Sarah was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer more than a year ago, and the severity of the prognosis was made clear by Noelle Robichon’s July 1st e-mail:

On Sat, Jul 1, 2017 at 4:38 PM, Noelle Robichon <noellerobichon@gmail.com> wrote:

Dear Skaters,
It is with a very heavy heart and reverence, I inform you of our dear friend and fellow skater, Sarah Gutkneckt’s health status. In March 2016, Sarah was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer.
You can follow along with her journey at https://www.caringbridge.org/public/sarahgutknecht. She was hoping to skate the August 5, Minnesota Half Marathon; however, a recent PET scan showed multiple liver metastases. She has stopped chemotherapy and has enrolled in hospice care. This week her oncologist has predicted 6 weeks to three months. She is currently “feeling well, active, and independent”.
Per my request, Sarah has given me permission to announce her health status to you; our skating community. It is my hope we optimize our opportunity to express our appreciation for Sarah, in ways that seem most personally authentic and fit to you and our skating community.
May I begin? Sarah, your smile is the window into a soul with infinite power to heal. Gracing my classes with your presence was a great honor to me. The way you looked at children in our skating classes, was a window into a soul with endless love, generosity and healing; which you freely gave. Namaste, my friend, Namaste, for an eternity.
If you so choose, Sarah’s caringbridge site has a place for comment and tribute.
Please forward the information to any other skating community member who may not be on this list.
Warm Regards,

 

Noelle

When I mentioned this situation to a co-worker he told me about a year ago his mother wasn’t feeling well.  His father took her to the doctor and they ran some tests.  The doctor diagnosed her and issued a prescription for a minor condition.  The doctor then turned to my friend’s father and asked what was wrong with him.  Nothing, I feel fine, was the response.  The doctor told him he looked terrible and ran some tests that lead to a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. He had felt just fine and suddenly had a terminal diagnosis.

There are countless walks/runs/events/marketing campaigns/nfl promotions to raise “awareness” for breast cancer.  Can you find one damn person on the planet that isn’t aware of breast cancer?  Obviously, its tragic when it happens, but everyone is “aware” of breast cancer.  What is a pancreas? Spell pancreas.  Where is it located? What does it do?  What are the cancer symptoms? What causes it? How can it be prevented?  No one has any awareness of one of the most deadly forms of cancer.  One of the reasons it is highly deadly is that the symptoms are not specific to the disease and do not present until the cancer has spread in many cases.  Symptoms include weight loss, jaundice, dark urine, light stool color, itching, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, back pain, bloating, diarrhea, malaise, loss of appetite, elevated blood sugar, and enlarged lymph nodes.

Three weeks after Noelle’s e-mail, Sarah posted the following to her CaringBridge site:

Journal entry by Sarah Gutknecht — 7/23/2017

Hi, everyone! I hope you are enjoying the summer. It’s so great to be outdoors and enjoy the sun et al.

Well, it has been an interesting few weeks. A recent PET scan revealed numerous new metastases. There is also increased uptake in the pancreas tumor itself. So, after my initial chemo regimen, followed by immunotherapy, followed by two separate chemo regimens, my oncologist has advised to stop treatment. It has been bittersweet, to say the least!

I was immediately enrolled in the hospice service, and have been receiving great care. I have been assigned to a supportive team. They visit me at my home. Medications and equipment are delivered to my home. Very convenient.

Late last week I had a new onset of right leg pain and swelling. I had an ultrasound on Friday evening that confirmed a right leg DVT (deep vein thrombosis: blood clot). This is apparently a fairly common complication related to pancreatic cancer. I was admitted to “observation” overnight at the hospital for monitoring and initiating Lovenox (“blood thinner”) injections.

I have tried very hard to accept my situation, emotions have been all over the map. A Kubler-Ross amalgamation. But to actually wear a “DNAR” identification band (do not attempt resuscitation) really brought it home. Wow. This is really happening.

I am so lucky to have such great support from family, friends, and colleagues, and for that, I am eternally grateful. Thanks everyone for your support, gifts, food, cards, etc. I love you all.

On Saturday morning, August 5th, Sarah wasn’t able to skate as we all had hoped.  After the race a gathering was held at the Liffey in downtown St. Paul, but Sarah wasn’t feeling well enough to attend either the race or the post race festivities.  Here is a photo from the Liffey:

From left to right: The Steltz family, Mike Dahms, Greg Miller, Pat Melby, Ryan Mullery, Michael Mullery, Andy Uttke, Paul Meyering, Christina Larson-Dickson, Melissa Dahlmann, Matt Dickson, Martha Flynn Kauth, Ovid Westin, Dan Collins, James Kauth, Alex Harvey (not pictured but in attendance included Bill Gabos, Noelle Robichon, Jeff Bachmann, John Schulte, and Gary Yanagita)

I wrote a lengthy letter to a graduating speedskater earlier this summer providing some unsolicited advice.  My closing paragraph reads:

Time speeds up.  The next two decades of your life will go by so much faster than the first two.  I write above about college experiences and it feels like it was a couple of years ago, not your entire lifetime ago.  I was in college, with a bowl of cereal in my hand, watching the morning news when the planes hit the towers on 9/11.  You were eating cereal too . . . in your diapers. It goes fast.  If there are things you want to do in life, don’t put them off.  If there are places you want to travel to then find a way to do that promptly.  Businesses and careers will rise and fall, relationships will come and go.  People you thought would always be there will pass on or let you down. Accept that no one gets out of this alive, so make the most of the gifts and the time you were given.  Be a positive upright individual that believes tomorrow will be better.  But know tomorrow won’t be better unless you work today to make it better.  Lead a life that someone will find interesting when you tell your story seventy years from now in a nursing home.

Sarah was a positive upright individual that worked to make tomorrow better for her patients, her family, and her friends.  Some of those folks left comments on her CaringBridge website.   Here is a representative comment a skater friend posted:

I’m so happy to have been able to share so many great times with you in our skating adventures. I have always looked up to you because of your passions for skating, travel, photography and helping others.  My first ever Rollerdome Marathon was with you! I remember admiring you so much because I wanted to be a life-long skater just as you are. The very first year of the Madeline Island Race you shared that little cabin in the woods with us. Races at the oval and trying to hold our ‘figure skater’ poses for the camera. You were always one of those people who I’ve looked up to as a role model of how I want to live my life. Your diagnosis makes me shake my fist at the heavens because this isn’t supposed to happen to someone as amazing as you. Thank you for inspiring me! I am thinking of you and your family. Love and Hugs

“Keep the rubber on the road.”

Media Machine NSIM 2007

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Over the years Sarah and Ann Kools were responsible for some of the fine photography on inlineskatempls.com.  The one above is among my favorites. Andy Kostka leading the paceline with Brent Bovitz, Paul Meyering, Matt Meyer, Ted Petrosky, Greg Miller, John Schulte, Randy Landucci, and Michael Mullery giving chase.  Even little Jesse Peterson is visible in the top right corner.