Archive for June, 2008

Here’s a reposting of a news article written by Helen O’Neill that’s certain to pull at heartstrings and induce smiles. Read and enjoy!


WASHINGTON – He thinks of her every time he gazes at the painting — a blazing orange sun she drew a few years after the tragedy. It is the only splash of color in his tiny K Street office and it gives him great joy, and a stab of sorrow.

He thinks of her every time he plucks a new $5 bill from his wallet and sees the large purple numeral emblazoned in the corner. It reminds him of how he used to sort her money: $1 bills in one envelope, fives and tens in others.

And of course he thought of her last month when a federal appeals court ruled on a case that could result in the redesign of the entire U.S. currency. It was one of the great legal victories of 53-year-old attorney Jeffrey Lovitky’s career, and he wishes she could have been there to share it.

But had she been there, it might never have happened.

For the lawsuit filed on behalf of the American Council of the Blind was never just about discrimination or changing the currency so the blind can distinguish a $1 bill from a $20.

It was about a brilliant, gifted woman who changed so many perceptions and overcame so many obstacles that those who knew her never doubted her ability to continue inspiring enormous change, even from the grave.

It was about the memory of a smile.


In his second-floor office, Lovitky sifts through a well-thumbed photo album. “Here’s a Sandy smile,” he says, plucking a picture from the page. “And here’s one. And this is truly a Sandy smile.”

The pictures show a petite brunette nestling into his shoulder under a cherry blossom tree, playfully pushing him in an oversized beach wheelchair on the sand, clutching his arm at a black tie event at which she was receiving yet another award.

His eyes mist at the memory — Sandra Welner, the brilliant physician whose dazzling smile and tenacious spirit stole Lovitky’s heart.

He found her after placing a personal ad in a Jewish newspaper — or really, she found him. He remembers the letter she wrote in response — not the words, but the tone. She sounded so intelligent, so lively, so interesting, and yet there was some obscure reference to a disability.

“I really must meet this person,” he thought.

Their first date was in an Irish pub in April 1994. She was already seated when he arrived, and he felt an instant attraction to the radiant young woman with the gentle brown eyes and tumble of dark curls.

They talked for hours. She told him about her practice as a gynecologist, running a clinic for women with disabilities; about her parents — Holocaust survivors from Poland who had created a new life and family in Pittsburgh; about her travels all over Europe, Australia and Israel.

But there were things she never mentioned in those first few hours. He had no idea that she couldn’t see his thinning hair and clear blue eyes, that she could only barely make out the shape of his face. Or that she had called the pub earlier to ask about the menu, so she could pretend to read it when she ordered.

It was only when they were preparing to leave, when she stood unsteadily and asked for help in getting a taxi, that he realized that she had difficulty walking. She held out her arm. Grasping it, he sensed they would be together for a long time.

Their dates were simple: walks in the park, petting horses at a stables near her Silver Spring apartment, takeout Thai dinners and occasional splurges on extravagant chocolate desserts at the Willard Hotel. She discussed her medical cases. He told her about his legal ones. Devoted news junkies, they often spent Saturday nights by the computer, Lovitky reading aloud the big stories of the day.

Gradually, he learned what had happened in those terrible days back in 1987.

She was almost 30, already a leading expert on fertility and women’s reproductive health. She had a large circle of friends and colleagues, a thriving career as a micro-surgeon and no shortage of suitors.

Traveling alone on vacation in Europe, Welner fell ill — so ill that she checked herself into a hospital in Amsterdam. Her family is not certain what happened next except that she went into cardiac arrest and suffered a serious brain injury.

Welner’s mother, Barbara, 81, still sobs at the shock of seeing her comatose daughter in a foreign hospital. Even if she survived, doctors said, she would be lucky to regain the ability of a 2-year-old.

“NO!” the mother cried. Not my brilliant, beautiful daughter, who could paint portraits that belonged in galleries, who played the violin so exquisitely that she was offered music scholarships in high school, who graduated from medical school at the age of 22. This was a child who, at the age of 12, had begged not to join a family vacation to Florida because she had enrolled in college courses instead.

Now doctors were saying she should lock her away.

“Not my Sandy,” the mother said.

And so, for 16 days in Amsterdam, she read medical journals and newspapers and played classical music for her lifeless daughter. She talked to her and caressed her — anything to trigger a response. She got none. “The doctors thought I was delusional,” she said.

Back in the United States, doctors offered the same grim prognosis.

Again, the mother said no.

And so Barbara and Nick Welner took their child home to New Haven, Conn. They read to her. They fed her. They bathed her. They taught her to count, to swallow, to sit up. They cried with her. Hour after hour, for days and months and years.

It wasn’t a miracle, her mother says of her daughter’s steady, excruciating recovery. It came of a determination so powerful that it burst from her broken body with a force that nothing could hold back.

But there were moments that felt like miracles. The day Sandy took her first tentative steps. The day a friend phoned from Israel, where Sandy had worked, and she began speaking in fluent Hebrew. She hadn’t forgotten a word.

“I was in awe,” her mother said.

Years later, as Lovitky heard these stories, he too was in awe. But not just of the woman he had grown to love. He was also awed by the older woman who became his dear friend.

“Sandy had such spirit and such courage,” Lovitky says, “but her mother did, too. Such effort, such faith.”

This was a woman who had fled the Warsaw ghetto with false papers as a young girl, who with the help of the Red Cross found her way to nursing school in England and eventually married a fellow Polish refugee in the United States. Both husband and wife had families who perished in concentration camps.

The Welners raised four children, two boys and two girls. But Sandy was always the star. “There was just this sense that she would accomplish extraordinary things,” says her brother, Michael Welner.

By the time Lovitky met her, Welner’s vision was severely damaged, her hands shook, and she walked with an unsteady gait. But her speech and mind were clear. And her memory was better than ever.

Lovitky marveled at her defiance. She refused to use a wheelchair. Instead she would pile the chair with her medical books and push it. Or she would use a cane.

She was dependent on others — the stream of medical students she paid to help her read, and write and file, on strangers to help her catch a cab, or spend money. And yet, Lovitky says, “she was more independent than anyone I knew.”

She went skydiving in Australia, alone. She climbed — inch by inch — the ancient historic site, Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea in Israel.

When she eventually moved into her own apartment in Washington, she insisted on cooking great Passover seders for her family.

“If Sandy wanted to do something, nothing was going to stop her,” Lovitky says.

But the hardest challenge she faced was professional — being accepted back into the medical world that had once embraced her.

Dr. Alan Decherney, a leading gynecologist and obstetrician, remembers the young woman with the cane shuffling into his office at Yale University to ask for his help. In a residency, years earlier, he had considered her smart and promising. Now she just looked pitiful.

You can’t go into practice, he told her, knowing how harsh he sounded but trying to be honest. You are legally blind and you are spastic.

But Welner pressed on. And something about her courage moved Decherney to let her sit in with other residents and join him on patient rounds.

She astounded him. This woman isn’t just smart, Decherney thought. She’s brilliant.

“I had to tell her not to answer all the questions all the time,” Decherney said, chuckling.

For the rest of her life Welner called Decherney her hero. When no one else in medicine would answer her calls, he made them on her behalf. With Decherney’s help she landed a job overseeing a clinic for women with disabilities at Washington Hospital Center. At the time, there were few resources for disabled women who wanted to get pregnant.

“Doctors simply didn’t want to deal with a woman in a wheelchair who wanted to have a baby,” said Trish Day, one of Welner’s first patients who became a close friend. “Sandy didn’t just understand the complications of a disabled body,” Day said. “She understood my dream.”

A year and half later, after watching another surgeon perform an emergency Caesarean section, Welner was the first person to hold Day’s newborn daughter, Diana. It was one of the proudest moments of her career.

But Welner did far more than encourage her patients. She designed and patented a special examination table for disabled women — lower and more maneuverable than the standard ones. She lectured on the need for disabled woman to get regular gynecological checkups and mammograms, something some avoid because the equipment isn’t adapted for them.

In a particularly sweet triumph, she returned to the nursing home in Connecticut and lectured the doctors who had once declared that she would function no better than a 2-year-old.

Then, in 1997, Welner’s clinic was closed because of cutbacks. She was devastated. And yet, Lovitky says, as she had so often done, Welner accepted reality and moved on.

She hurled herself into her work — applying for research grants, writing a book on medical care for women with disabilities, becoming a faculty member of Georgetown and Maryland University medical centers, speaking at the United Nations, lecturing around the country and the world.

Few knew that Welner’s masterful hour-long PowerPoint presentations were memorized by heart. She couldn’t see her own slides.

“She just never stopped,” says Lovitky. He worried sometimes about how hard Welner pushed herself, rarely getting more than a few hours sleep a night.

And then, in an instant, everything stopped. It was Oct. 8, 2001 and the country was still reeling from the shock of the Sept. 11 attacks. Lovitky and Welner had talked about it by phone that night. It was the last real conversation they ever had.

The call jolted him awake a few hours later. “There’s been an accident,” said Welner’s neighbor. “It’s serious.”

Lovitky grabbed a Bible and raced to the hospital. Swathed in bandages, a breathing tube in her throat, Sandy was barely recognizable. She had third-degree burns over 70 percent of her body. But she smiled and mouthed “I love you,” and blew a kiss.

She had been lighting a memorial candle for her late father, when the flame caught her nightgown. The neighbor had broken down her door and pulled her from the fire.

The next 13 days were blur of suffering and sadness as Lovitky and Welner’s mother and brother waited, willing Sandy to survive, clinging to the belief that she might. After all, this was Sandy — invincible, irrepressible Sandy. She had come back from near death once before. Surely she could again.

On Oct. 21, Lovitky whispered his last words to the woman with whom he had planned to spend his life. He doesn’t even know if she heard.

She died 10 minutes later. She was 42.


In the months after Welner’s death, Lovitky felt bewildered by grief and regret. He couldn’t work, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep.

He went to Israel, trekked to all the most dangerous parts. Family and friends feared he had a death wish. There were times he wondered if he did.

At his darkest moment, Lovitky talked to his rabbi.

What can I do, he cried.

Do something good that will contribute to her memory, the rabbi told him.

And then Lovitky remembered the envelopes, how he would sort Sandy’s money before she went on trips — putting the $1 bills in one envelope, the tens and twenties in others. He remembered her frustration at having to trust strangers for the right change.

And he realized that there was something he could do — something that could both celebrate Welner’s legacy and affect the lives of millions. Elsewhere around the world, accommodations are made for the blind — different sized notes or tactile features such as raised markings.

Why not the United States?

In May 2002, Lovitky sued the Treasury Department on behalf of the American Council of the Blind, arguing that its failure to design a currency that is accessible to blind people is a form of discrimination.

In November 2006, the court ruled in favor of the Council.

“Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they lack meaningful access to U.S. currency,” Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote in the ruling, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld in May. “Even the most searching tactile examination will reveal no difference between a $100 bill and a $1 bill. The secretary has identified no reason that requires paper currency to be uniform to the touch.”

The Treasury Department, which argues that a redesign of the currency would be too costly, has not said if it will fight the latest ruling.


Lovitky visits Welner’s grave several times a year — when he travels to Pittsburgh to visit her mother. They rarely talk about the lawsuit, though they know Sandy would have been proud.

For his part, Lovitky says he feels a strange detachment about the outcome. There is little of the personal satisfaction or pride he has felt with other legal victories. He understands why. He understands the long hours he poured into this case — all the research, all the briefs, all the consultations with other lawyers — was never really about winning. Or about money.

It was about commemorating the spirit of the rare and beautiful woman who changed his life.

It was about love.

Read Full Post »

I’ve had several great experiences over the past two weeks participating as part of the Iolani Career Shadows Program and I’d like to share them with you!

On June 18, I was able to watch Dr. Morisada, a pediatrician, at her work. She was clearly passionate about her job and helping her patients. I saw a newborn baby and had the opportunity to listen to her heartbeat. There were toddlers of many different ages being treated, ranging from a few months old to several years old. I watched Dr. Morisada diagnose problems like ear infections and prescribe medication. She gave me helpful worksheets that give me an idea of how many years medical school, residencies, and fellowships will take and also detailing the different types of medical specialties. It was interesting to learn that Dr. Morisada had not been completely set on her career path back in high school. She emphasizes taking the time to find something you really enjoy and to follow your heart until that happens.

On June 23, I went to see Dr. Matsuo, a radiologist, at Queen’s Hospital. I was able to see the machines they use for CT scans, MRI scans, and ultrasounds. I saw examples of all of these scans and x-rays on the computers in the radiology offices, allowing me to view different muscles and bones, the brain, and a fetus. Dr. Matsuo talked about the dedication it takes to get through those many years of medical schooling as well as the recent improvements in technology that either make his job easier or help to make patients more comfortable (ex. larger scanning machines where size does not decrease effectiveness and clarity of images, making it easier for those with claustrophobia.) Overall, the experience was eye-opening. Before, I had no idea what a radiologist was. Now, it’s a career that I’m considering and something that I can easily imagine myself doing and enjoying.

On June 25, I was at Queen’s Hospital once again, this time to observe Dr. Atkinson, a orthopedic surgeon. I followed Dr. Atkinson around for a few hours and watched him diagnose and treat problems with people’s muscles and tendons in the arms and legs that limited movement or caused pain. I saw several cases of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (where there’s tingling, numbness, or pain in the fingers) and cases of de Quervain’s Tendonitis (inflammation of a wrist tendon, making movement difficult.) In some cases, X-rays were taken. Other times, Dr. Atkinson used injections, recommended surgery, or had patients wear a brace. He mentioned that only a small percentage of those doing residencies as orthopedic surgeons are female whereas about 50 percent of those graduating from medical school are female. However, one of his patients’ daughters is set on becoming an orthopedic surgeon and she’s only 12! This is definitely a career choice I will look more into.

Notice a pattern? ^ ^ I’m pretty sure that I’d like to go into pre-med but there are so many choices from there. And that makes it all the more exciting!

Read Full Post »

“If…” Humor

If a listener nods his head when you’re explaining your program, wake him up.

If a straight line fit is required, obtain only two data points.

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

If an experiment works, you must be using the wrong equipment.

If an item is advertised as “under $50”, you can bet it’s not $19.95.

If anything can go wrong, it will.

If anything is used to its full potential, it will break.

If at first you do succeed, try to hide your astonishment.

If at first you don’t succeed, blame it on your supervisor.

If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence that you tried.

If at first you don’t succeed, give up. No use being a damn fool.

If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.

If at first you don’t succeed, skydiving is not your sport.

If at first you don’t succeed, transform your dataset.

If at first you don’t succeed, try something else.

If at first you don’t succeed, well…darn.

If at first you don’t succeed, you probably didn’t really care anyway.

If at first you don’t succeed, you’ll get a lot of free advice from folks who didn’t succeed either.

If at first you don’t succeed, you’re doing about average.

If at first you don’t succeed, your successor will.

If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.

If enough data is collected, anything can be proven by statistical methods.

If everything is coming your way, you are probably in the wrong lane.

If everything seems to be going well, you obviously do not know what is going on.

If everything seems to go right, check your zipper.

If facts do not conform to the theory, they must be disposed of.

If flattery gets you nowhere, try bribery.

If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t there more happy people?

If ignorance is bliss, most of us must be orgasmic.

If it can be borrowed and it can be broken, you will borrow it and you will break it.

If it is good, they will stop making it.

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing for money.

If it jams, force it. If it breaks, it needed replacing anyway.

If it looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true.

If it says “one size fits all,” it doesn’t fit anyone.

If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would ever get done.

If it works, don’t fix it!

If more than one person is responsible for a miscalculation, no one will be at fault.

If not controlled, work will flow to the competent man until he submerges.

If on an actuarial basis there is a 50-50 chance that something will go wrong, it will actually go wrong nine times out of ten.

If opportunity came disguised as temptation, one knock would be enough.

If people listened to themselves more often, they would talk less.

If reproducibility might be a problem, conduct the test only once.

If some people didn’t tell you, you’d never know they’d been away on vacation.

If something is confidential, it will be left in the photocopy machine.

If something is done wrong often enough, it becomes right.

If the assumptions are wrong, the conclusions are not likely to be very good.

If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong.

If the probability of success is not almost one, it is damn near zero.

If the slightest probability for an unpleasant event to happen exists, the event will take place, preferably during a demonstration.

If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.

If there isn’t a law, there will be.

If there is light at the end of the tunnel…order more tunnel.

If things were left to chance, they would be better.

If two wrongs don’t make a right, try three.

If we learn by our mistakes, some of us are getting one hell of an education!

If you aim for the stars but only make it to the moon, remember there are people who have not yet made it to the moon.

If you are already in a hole, there is no use to continue digging.

If you are asked to join a parade, don’t march behind the elephants.

If you are coasting, you’re going downhill.

If you are feeling good, don’t worry. You’ll get over it.

If you are given two contradictory orders, obey them both.

If you are not the lead dog, the scenery never changes.

If you are running for a short line, it suddenly becomes a long line.

If you are worried about being crazy, don’t be overly concerned. If you were, you would think you were sane.

If you can smile when things go wrong, you must have someone to blame.

If you cannot convince them, confuse them. – Harry S. Truman

If you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

If you cannot fix it, feature it.

If you cannot get your work done in a 24-hour day, then work nights!

If you cannot measure output, then you measure input.

If you cannot hope for order, withdraw with style from the chaos.

If you consult enough experts, you can confirm any opinion.

If you did what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.

If you do a job too well, you will get stuck with it.

If you do something right once, someone will ask you to do it again.

If you do not care where you are, then you aren’t lost.

If you do not change direction, you are likely to end up where you are headed.

If you do not know what you’re doing, do it neatly.

If you do not like the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question.

If you do not make dust, you eat dust.

If you do not say it, they can’t repeat it.

If you do not understand it, it must be intuitively obvious.

If you explain so clearly that no one can possibly misunderstand, someone will.

If you file it, you’ll know where it is but never need it. If you don’t file it, you’ll need it but never know where it is.

If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.

If you have something to do, and you put it off long enough, chances are someone else will do it for you.

If you have to ask, you are not entitled to know.

If you keep anything long enough, you can throw it away.

If you keep saying things are going to be bad, you have a chance of being a prophet.

If you live in a country run by committee, be on the committee.

If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think they’ll hate you.

If you plan to leave your mark in the sands of time, you better wear work shoes.

If you put it off long enough, it might go away.

If you see a man approaching you with the obvious intent of doing you good, you should run for your life.

If you see that there are four possible ways in which a procedure can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, promptly develops.

If you stand in one place long enough, you make a line.

If you step out of a short line for a second, it becomes a long line.

If you think the problem is bad now, just wait until we’ve solved it.

If you throw something away, you will need it the next day.

If you try to please everybody, nobody will like it.

If you understand it, it is obsolete.

This and more from The Joke Archives!

Read Full Post »

Gold: A Vignette

Gold is purity. It is a heart of true gentleness, unsullied and tainted only with worry.

Gold is passion. It is the band of unbridled love, devotion, and romantic wedding bells.

Gold is victory. Gold is honor and the peak of competition: it is an Olympic medal, the Nobel Prize, a triumph of humanity.

Gold is mourning. An empty cavity of fallen morals and misery trembles under a gilded layer.

Gold is beauty. The color of a sunrise, a lilting melody in the air, and a joyous promise of new beginnings.

Gold is elegance. Flattened, a sheet of  fashionable leaves and stretched out, a fine ductile embroidery.

Gold is surprise. Infuse into glass and see a magical transformation to gold ruby colloid the color of cranberries.

Gold is indulgence. It lines the chain of jewels and garnishes a gourmet dish worth thousands of dollars.

Gold is danger. Heavy blocks and jealous strands give reason to plunder and motive for murder.

Gold is weakness. Without alloys, it bends easily to persuasion and crumbles.

Gold is protection. It coats satellites, insulates engines, and treats cancer.

Gold is history. Ritual and mystery: treasured by Egyptians, dispersed throughout the Mali Empire, hungered for in the Americas.

Rose, blue, white, black: a variety of colors, caratages, and facets. Gold is a temptress rich in both recklessness and reward, one worthy of seduction.

Read Full Post »

Happy Father’s Day!!

Read Full Post »

Color Outside My Lines: A Vignette

Ducks are supposed to be yellow. The sky is blue and grass green, never the other way around. Don’t be messy: color inside the lines. Structure, structure, structure. Like the boxed-in office walls of white and perfect rows of black type marching across the computer screen.

Then I met you. You the embodiment of life. You who would not conform, who would outright refuse to be bound to and labeled by society’s rules. Streaming in, flooding out: you were the rivers of unadulterated passion and being. And so I too began to see. See somersaults of overflowing color: radiating hues with glitter splashing and a scent like wild citrus fruit. Fierce zigzags and shuddering curves dashing off the pages and bleeding into neon-filled summer skies. Fire trucks as large as houses and those black and white confines swirling in storms of gray. Color outside my lines and blend me in with the free.

illustration by Ayxl

Read Full Post »

Start of Summer

I’ve just spent Sunday battling monstrous dustbunny-warriors and gathering up the contents of this past school year before stuffing them into boxes to “clean up” the mess. A much more daunting task than it may seem when you’re allergic to dust. >_< It really can’t be economical if I have to go through a whole box of tissues doing this, right?

So…SAT II’s are done! Now it’s time for the juiciest part of all, researching colleges! I imagine that I’ll soon be bogged down with the responsibility of writing those much-dreaded college apps. But until then…I can catch up on sleep and finally finish reading Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. ^ ^

I’m also feeling a major urge to write something so I’ll probably post again in a few days. How do I find ideas to write about? Basically, I have a Word document full of random phrases/ideas that pop into my mind at the most inopportune moments and then develop those when I have free time. : ) You’ll now have to excuse me as I have a pressing appointment with a book, my bed, and a fresh box of tissues.

Read Full Post »