Dr. Jeffrey Yue wasn’t a smoker.
Trim and fit in his 50s, Yue was a triathlete whose interests stretched from cycling to hunting and fishing.
So it was a shock to friends and family when Yue, a longtime anesthesiologist at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids, was found in May 2017 to have lung cancer.
Being a patient made Yue even more passionate about ways that he and colleagues could make health care better — ideas about empathy captured in a seven-minute video that hospital leaders widely shared during a series of staff meetings about a year ago.
His family showed the video again at a memorial service this month for Yue, 59, of Medina, who died on Jan. 10.
“He took everything and lifted it up,” said Sara Criger, the president of Mercy Hospital. “He believed in community as the reason why we do what we do and why we need to be excellent at it.”
Yue grew up in Deephaven and graduated from Minnetonka High School. He received his undergraduate degree from Augsburg University and graduated from the University of Minnesota Medical School.
His wife, Suzann Yue, said her husband knew as a child he wanted to become physician. A key influence, she said, was his father, who was raised in China and moved in 1948 to Minnesota for training as an anesthesiologist. The elder Dr. Yue practiced acupuncture as well and passed something of the art to his son.
Jeffrey Yue excelled in regional anesthesia, where doctors insert needles to administer pain blocks such as spinal epidurals. The trick is to get the needle right next to the nerves, said Dr. Peder Knutsen, one of Yue’s partners at Midwest Anesthesiologists PA.
“Jeff took pride in having very good hands,” Knutsen added. “That means he was very facile with the lines and the blocks that we perform every day. The targets that we’re hitting are very small, and many times we’re doing it with feel or just clinical experience.”
At Mercy Hospital, Yue served as medical director of anesthesia, chief of the medical staff and chairman of the credentials committee. Yue was a force in upholding high standards, Knutsen said, and wasn’t afraid to call out colleagues for lapses.
The drive for excellence went beyond the operating room. When Mercy Hospital and Unity Hospital in Fridley merged in 2016, Yue was influential in orchestrating the change and pushing for improvements for mental health patients, Criger said.
After the diagnosis in 2017, Yue underwent three surgeries, chemotherapy and two forms of radiation to treat his lung cancer. The drive throughout was to return to practice, where he believed his experiences would make him an even better doctor.
Yue talked in the hospital video about how vulnerable patients feel and the power caregivers have to help by eliciting questions, making eye contact and offering just a few kind words. It doesn’t take much time, but the attention lets patients know they’re seen as people — not just a “unit that needs to be cared for,” Yue said.
“Cancer is not the worst thing that can happen to you,” Yue said in the video. “In fact, other than having cancer, my life is better than it was before. ... It’s taught me that there’s no amount of love that you can’t give, there’s no amount of relationships that you can’t build.
“You don’t have to get cancer to realize it,” he added. “All we have to do is work with each other in practice and realize that it’s there. It’s not just our patients that will benefit, it’s us — and our husbands and our wives and our brothers and our kids. We’ll all benefit if we can just tap into that a little bit, and share with others just a little bit more.”