Kristin Thompson '12, Apple Valley, Minn., was just 8 years old when she met George Halvorson '68 for the first time. Even though she was too young to remember the occasion, their connection has had a profound impact on her decision to pursue a career in health care management. So she relished the opportunity to renew their relationship during a recent unexpected reunion at Concordia.
"I see him as a mentor and someone I could be like," says Thompson after visiting with Halvorson, who was on campus to deliver the 2010 Commencement address.
Halvorson is chairman and CEO of the nation's largest nonprofit health plan and hospital system, Kaiser Permanente, in Oakland, Calif. He came to know Kristin while serving as CEO for another nonprofit health plan provider, HealthPartners, in Minneapolis.
Kristin was born with a congenital heart defect that required her to undergo three major operations during her first year of life. HealthPartners provided critical insurance support for Kristin's ongoing care. Kristin's story was featured as part of a HealthPartners television ad campaign that debuted at a 1998 celebration event in the Twin Cities. That's where Kristin and her parents, Mark and Lori, first met Halvorson.
"I remember him saying, ‘This is the reason I got into health care,'" says Mark Thompson '82. "You could just tell he was this genuine person trying to make the world a better place."
At the time, the Thompsons didn't realize that Halvorson was a Cobber. In fact, they didn't make the connection until 12 years later when they read he'd be back on campus for Commencement. The Thompsons thought that would be a great opportunity to reconnect. And so they did – enjoying a brief visit that brought back warm memories.
Halvorson was delighted to see that Kristin continues to thrive. Even more heartwarming, he says, is what she plans to do with her life.
"I love that she's (majoring) in health care management," Halvorson says. "That's perfect. It's a great path to be on and a lovely way to make a difference in people's lives."
Kristin says her visit with Halvorson reaffirmed that she's doing the right thing. "He told me that you go into health care management not to get rich, but to help people – and that's exactly what I want to do. I've been in so many hospitals and all those experiences as a patient will help me."
In June 2009, Kristin underwent her fourth open-heart surgery – this time to replace the pulmonary valve. Her heart is now structurally the best it's ever been and she anticipates living a normal life.
Kristin's dream is to work for medical technology giant Medtronic or serve in health care management for a heart clinic.
"I want to have a big influence and really be a leader (in helping others)," Kristin says. "I just want to give back."