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Former Allina Health CEO Penny Wheeler opens up about marriage

Dr. Penny Wheeler’s fight for equality in healthcare
Dr. Penny Wheeler’s fight for equality in healthcare 03:04

MINNEAPOLIS — It took Dr. Penny Wheeler 15 years to figure out what she wanted to do. Her high school English teacher prompted her.

"I really liked school and learning and I thought, 'Where can I go to school for a really long time and combine science and human and understanding people and you get to be part of a wonderful mission to help people's suffering and hopefully make people's lives better?'" Wheeler said.

Medicine was the answer. She would become a respected OBGYN, who quickly realized things weren't fair.

"You just saw all these stories of people of feeling like they had been left behind," Wheeler said.

She was deeply struck by the story of a Black man who died too young.

"He felt erased, erased by the healthcare system," Wheeler said. "And I wanted to be a piece — a piece of something that made that difference for people, that welcomed all in and cared for all more equitably."

Whether it was transportation or nutrition, she focused on barriers to care on a big scale, becoming CEO of Allina Health.

But it wasn't just her career that was getting attention. Wheeler is married to Margaret Chutich, a justice for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

"Even though having a same-sex marriage was a part of who we were, it wasn't all of who we are. So we were not gonna be defined by that. But it turns out it's kind of an important piece to a lot of people," Wheeler said.

That includes a young man who approached her at an event.

"He had been separated from his family because of that, and that allowed him to see himself more fully," Wheeler said.

Penny Wheeler, her wife, Margaret Chutich, and their daughter, Olivia. WCCO

It's a love she's proud of — a love that yielded the mutual love of their lives, Olivia. 

They lost their daughter in 2021 when she was away at college, but she will always be with them.

"She was always part of our love story," Wheeler said. "And even though we lost her, that kid taught me more about love than I will know in a thousand lifetimes."

Amidst the deep pain, Wheeler and Chutich vow to keep living in love.

"Hopefully when you can be yourself, then you carve a path for others to be themselves too," Wheeler said.

Wheeler now serves on the Unversity of Minnesota Board of Regents.

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