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Meet the Mayo doctor Dayton calls his ‘savior’

March 17, 2017 GMT

Dr. Igor Frank has performed surgery on plenty of high-profile patients during his Mayo Clinic career. What he is not used to is being hailed as a “savior” by the governor of Minnesota.

Gov. Mark Dayton recently praised the surgeon at a Minnesota Capitol press conference.

“He is my savior,” Dayton told reporters.

The 70-year-old governor was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Earlier this month, he underwent surgery to have the prostate removed at Mayo Clinic. Test results show the cancer had not spread beyond the governor’s prostate.

Frank performed the surgery. The Rochester doctor said he was surprised and flattered by the governor’s remarks.

“It’s unexpected, without a doubt,” Frank said.

The governor’s comments went far beyond applauding Frank’s medical skills. He also talked extensively about the doctor’s family history. Dayton noted that the doctor is from Siberia and his grandparents had been exiled to a labor camp in Siberia. He said the fact Frank’s grandfather was a physician helped him survive in the gulag.

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Frank said he is stunned the governor remembered all those biographical details about him.

“I know he comes into contact with hundreds and hundreds of people each and every week if not more and to remember all these random facts about somebody else kind of shows you that he cares,” he said.

Frank also said he never intended to talk about his family’s history with the governor.

“We certainly didn’t sit down for an hour over coffee and talk about my life,” Frank said. “I actually never intended to share my life. This is completely random and this is completely a result of him asking questions.”

To be fair to the governor, Frank’s family history is quite compelling. His maternal grandparents lived in Ukraine and were Jewish. They fled to Siberia during World War II to escape the Nazis. His paternal grandfather was from Germany and living in Russia when the war broke out. He lived in a community of ethnic Germans known as “Volga Germans,” because they lived along the Volga River in Russia. Russian leader Joseph Stalin ordered these Volga Germans be sent to forced labor camps in Siberia during the war — including Frank’s grandparents.

Frank attended college and medical school in Massachusetts. He became a resident at Mayo Clinic in 1997. He specializes in performing robotic prostatectomy. So does it change how Frank prepares for surgery when he knows his patient is a prominent leader like a governor? Not really.

“It’s kind of like being a fighter pilot. You can go on a lot of missions and some are very important, but the reality is it becomes muscle memory and reflexes and your training kicks in,” he said.

Frank said the governor did stand out as a patient.

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“I’ve taken care of a lot of patients in the past — some of whom are politically connected. But he was unique in that he was very personable and absolutely a gentleman. And I’m not saying it because he’s our governor. I found him to be an absolute delight to interact with,” Frank said.

The governor and the surgeon did find something they have in common — a love of hockey.

“He played ice hockey, and so we talked hockey the whole time. Well, I wasn’t talking during the surgery,” Dayton joked.

Indeed, Frank said hockey is the big sport in Siberia and he played it almost every day growing up. The surgeon added, “I haven’t played here because I just don’t have enough time.”