"Links" to Memorial Day for the Institute

May 30, 2011

I have been struggling with how to put this next blog together.  How does one "link" Better Speech and Hearing Month, Nursing Week, and the memories of important friends and alumni of the Institute?   My mind has been flooded with some memories that fit a Memorial Day theme, that pay tribute to lost friends, and that tie nicely with the theme of honoring two of our disciplines that are "memorialized" in May!   So in this blog I have chosen to focus on the memory of Dr. James Mongan, former CEO of Partners Health and MGH, and also an honorary "friend" of the Institute; on the recent loss of one of our Founders, Dr. Nancy Watts,  a visionary in the world of Physical Therapy.   In April, a Boston Marathon run honored one of our recent alums, Christopher Norman (CSD '07) who passed away suddenly last fall.  We also remember another CSD alum,  Carrie Penchuk, (CSD '06) who succumbed to a long bout with cancer last month.

I decided to spend this morning, Memorial Day 2011, facing the challenge of making the link and attempting to memorialize this jumbled mix of sadness, honor, and tribute.  

Link Number 1:  Dr. Nancy Watts and Dr. James Mongan.  Two health care rock stars, who were probably never linked in day to day life, but whose attention and talent started the Institute and then sustained it through its best and most challenging times.  Dr. Watts, known as a great teacher of physical therapists and a leader at Mass General was committed to the founding of an educational organization that was different, in that it placed the education of health professionals-nurses, PTs, SLPs, and others front and center.  Imagine the challenge, thirty four years ago, of being a proponent of a "stand alone" school of health professions, that valued and taught in an interdisciplinary manner, and educated new professionals for entry at the graduate level.  This approach, seen previously only in schools of medicine and dentistry, created a bridge and blueprint for who we are today.  Fast Forward to Dr. Jim Mongan's arrival in Boston in 1996, when he was invited to serve as President of Mass General Hospital, our founding organization.   As the story goes, the Institute was struggling financially and organizationally at that time.  There was some discussion of closure or of "handing off" the Institute to another institution, which would have inevitably led to a loss of uniqueness and vitality, even if financial stability would have been accomplished.   Dr. Mongan  offered support and leadership and shared his belief in the role of the Institute as a unique leader for health professions education.  With change in leadership, programming, and support, the Institute has grown into its future.   We share grateful memories of these two important leaders, Drs. Watts and Mongan, who brought life and sustenance to our school and whose vision will continue to live in what we do!

Link Number 2:  Chris Norman.   Chris is remembered by his classmates and the faculty as a person who led by example, collegiality, and friendship.   He was talented, being one of the handful of graduates who enters PhD study each year.  Chris left the Institute for the University of Nebraska, where he was working on his doctorate with a focus on research and treatment in fluency disorders (Stuttering).  The meaning of Chris' life and vitality were brought home to me when I attended a special breakfast held by the Institute the day before the Boston Marathon.  The breakfast was attended by Chris' family, classmates, and faculty in CSD.  The purpose was to pay tribute to Chris and to honor Janis Greims (CSD 2007) Chris' classmate, who was running the marathon in his honor.   The words of thankfulness, appreciation, celebration, and joy for Chris' life, his contributions to Speech Pathology and to the CSD program, and of course for Janis' leadership in creating a scholarship were "bigger than life" that day!

Link Number 3: Carrie Penchuk (CSD 2006).   Carrie passed away on April 14, 2011.  I never knew Carrie, not personally that is.   I have spent a few hours learning about Carrie and her remarkable husband, Matt.   Matt kept a blog describing the journey through Carrie's battle with cancer and his revealing "insider" look at the experience of her death, his loss, and their process together.  Dr. Gregg Lof, CSD Chair described Carrie as having "smiles, charm, and smarts."   This account of Carrie's last months speaks to that.  It also suggests that Carrie married someone who was matched with those same qualities and a great writer too.   Matt's blog doesn't say much about Carrie's speech pathology career, but his work should be required reading for every speech-language pathologist, physician, nurse, and physical therapist - every health care provider.   Matt's blog, written with joy, sadness, and technical precision, is filled with memorable and riveting anecdotes of Carrie's care.  Everyone who reads this narrative will find the lessons that we try to teach every day:  (1) the value of good health care; (2) the tragedy and desperation caused by insensitivity and miscommunication; (3) the heroic value of advocacy for those we love during difficult health situations; and (4) critical end of life lessons.   I found a strange connection not only to what we teach, but to what we do.   First and foremost, Matt repeatedly speaks to the brilliant, caring, and practical solutions brought forward by nurse heroes.  Matt relays the breadth of their expertise in teaching him how to monitor Carrie's blood count, and how to advocate with other providers. He relays also the story of the physical therapist, who on a sad day at Christmas time "ordered" that Carrie be taken to the lobby of the hospital to see Christmas trees and stop by the gift shop for some shopping!   And of course, the star of this story is a speech-language pathologist, who demonstrated the grace, charm, smile, and smarts that her faculty here at the Institute loved.   I commend this blog as homework for everyone who cares about health care, end of life issues, and wants to be educated about the "patient/family" perspective.    Set a side a few hours, read this from the beginning, and you will be changed.  (Special thanks to Matt Penchuk for giving me permission to share his blog).

In closing, I hope that you join me in seeing the "links" around which we cluster.  While there are links to additional resources on the internet, our links are deeper.  The stories, all memorable, are inspiring and educational.   For me, this Memorial Day, is highlighted by remembrances of members of the Institute community who have taught by example,  provided lessons that are transforming, and who live on through their stories of generosity, talent, and courage, and who help us know why there is a "Better Speech and Hearing Month" and a "National Nurses Week."

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