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Alumni News

Editors: Jeanne Johnson, Philip Tang, A&S '95
Contributing Writer: Lew Diuguid, SAIS '63


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Shedding Light on Sibling Loss
Making American Drugs Safer
Shelf Life
Nursing Advocate Fights Stereotypes
Remembering Writer Iris Chang
In the News...
Leadership Weekend Unfolds
Celebrating Success

Elizabeth De Vita-Raeburn, A&S '92 (MA)
Shedding Light on Sibling Loss

The year is 1980, Elizabeth DeVita is 14 years old, and she is alone with her brother, Ted, as he dies. A victim of a rare immune-system disorder called aplastic anemia, Ted has spent eight years isolated in a famous "plastic bubble" at the National Institutes of Health. After his death, Elizabeth and her parents walk numbly from the hospital. Their grief hangs in the air, immense and unutterable. "We do not touch," Elizabeth recalls. "We do not speak."

Illustration by Stephanie Dalton Cowan Nor do they speak of it in the ensuing years. Trying to be considerate of her parents' loss — trying to be a "good girl" — Elizabeth locks her own sense of loss in cold storage, deep inside. Finally, at age 26 — after more than a decade of alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, and failed relationships — Elizabeth sees a therapist. Her first words astonish her: "I am my brother's death," she blurts, and suddenly a dozen years of frozen grief shatter and thaw, engulfing her.

Elizabeth's struggle is far from unique. While millions lose brothers and sisters, few receive the understanding and help they need to cope with "sibling loss."

Once she began to grapple with her grief, Elizabeth looked for research on the subject. She found virtually none. Grieving parents and bereft spouses had spawned studies galore, but siblings seemed scarcely to merit mention. She decided to remedy the omission. The result is The Empty Room: Surviving the Loss of a Brother or Sister at Any Age (Scribner, 2004), Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn's poignant and powerful account of her quest for healing, interwoven with the stories of dozens of other grief-stricken siblings.

Although the book's seed was planted in Ted's hospital room, it germinated and took root at Johns Hopkins, where DeVita-Raeburn enrolled in the graduate writing program in 1991. "When Barbara Culliton interviewed me for the program, we made a connection," says DeVita-Raeburn, who earned an MA in science writing. "Barbara had written stories about my brother, and in my admissions interview, she told me she'd lost a brother, too. She was the first one to encourage me to write about my experience."
And write she did. For her thesis project, she interviewed several people who had lost siblings. "That really helped shape my thinking and writing," she says. "Hopkins gave me tools and encouragement and also set me on the path to the book."

For the book, she interviewed dozens more bereft siblings. Many had never talked about their pain until DeVita-Raeburn interviewed them. Like her, many had felt disenfranchised in their grief, unentitled to their sense of loss. Also like her, many found it cathartic to tell their stories at last.

Some never even knew their lost siblings in life: Reeve Lindbergh, whose story DeVita-Raeburn tells in her book, was born years after the headline-making kidnapping and death of toddler Charles Lindbergh Jr. Yet the tragedy hovered over her and the family for decades, unspoken and unresolved, until the sudden death of Reeve' s own son one night — ironically, during a visit to Anne Morrow Lindbergh's house. When the two women discovered the dead child in the morning, Reeve later wrote, "We were sitting together, my mother and I, sitting quietly next to that crib in that house, not with one dead baby, but with two."

Other people DeVita-Raeburn interviewed lost cherished friends in losing siblings. One, a woman named Meredith, had shared a love of running with her brother, Jon. When Jon died of cancer, Meredith kept running marathons — and turned the runs into fundraisers for cancer research. Meredith's races represent a healing and empowering response that DeVita-Raeburn calls "carrying": bringing the lost sibling forward in time, keeping him or her alive in memory.

DeVita-Raeburn writes that, unlike Meredith, she hasn't yet found a good way of "carrying" Ted. But perhaps she has, after all. The dedication in The Empty Room reads simply, "For Ted." Even that dedication doesn't seem to tell the whole story: The book is not just for Ted; it's for Elizabeth, too, and for the 77 people who shared their stories with her. It's also for the untold other siblings who need to read it as well, so they can claim and share their own stories of love and loss and ongoing life. —Jon Jefferson

David Graham, A&S '76, Med '79, SPH '85
Making America's Drugs Safer

David Graham made headlines last November when, testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, he said that the Federal Drug Administration was "virtually incapable of protecting America" from unsafe drugs. Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) called the hearing after the drug company Merck pulled its popular pain killer, Vioxx, off the market. (A study sponsored by Merck had found that the drug doubled the risk of heart attack or stroke after 18 months of use.) Graham accused the FDA of ignoring his warnings and suppressing the results of his investigations.

Graham told Congress that Americans are "virtually defenseless" against the next Vioxx.
Photo by AP Photo / Gerald Herbert
As a reviewer in the FDA's Office of Drug Safety for 20 years, Graham has helped to remove 10 unsafe drugs from the market. During his testimony, Graham cited Crestor, Bextra, Meridia, Serevent, and Accutane as potentially unsafe drugs.

The FDA dismissed Graham's charges; one top official called him "irresponsible" and accused him of "junk science." However, the FDA recently tightened restrictions on Accutane, an acne drug that can cause birth defects when taken by pregnant women, and in January allowed Graham to release his Vioxx findings.

Graham has said that he is being punished by his supervisors for blowing the whistle on the FDA. Graham, who is being represented by the nonprofit Government Accountability Project, claims that he is being forced to transfer to a different FDA position. —Catherine Pierre

Shelf Life

The Chess Artist: Genius, Obsession, and the World's Oldest Game, by J.C. Hallman, A&S '97 (MA), Thomas Dunne Books (2004).
To engage even a reader never drawn to the game, Hallman gives his factual account the rhythm of a novel — portraying a handful of chess nuts loose in exotic geography, splashing on enough history to sustain the subtitle, and detailing the provenance and even the feel of the board pieces to provide tactile immediacy. He does not attempt actually to teach chess. Indeed, the broader lesson, sustaining the "obsession" of the subtitle, seems to be that if you feel a firm pull from this (art, sport, war game, religion, malady), better back off the board.

Broken as Things Are, by Martha Witt, A&S '92 (MA), Henry Holt (2004).
From the perspective of a precocious 14-year-old girl, Witt wields a spare yet unsparing prose to evoke the social stew that can be North Carolinian Appalachia. While the troubles cataloged — primarily involving an obsessive autistic older brother — could be found in families elsewhere, their revelation here is telling. It can even help explain why the region's otherwise verdant hills can become scarred showrooms for rusting abandoned autos. Sometimes Witt can seem downright Faulknerian.
—Lew Duiguid, SAIS '63

Sandy Summers, Nurs '02 (MSN/MPH)
Nursing Advocate Fights Damaging Media Stereotypes

Like an airline passenger in an emergency, the nursing profession needs to put on its own oxygen mask before it can help patients, says Sandy Summers. And as the executive director of the Center for Nursing Advocacy, she's doing what she can to help nurses empower their profession.

Sandy Summers As Summers sees it, nursing suffers from a persistent image problem perpetuated by the media through rampant and damaging stereotypes. Among them: the handmaiden, angel, sex object, and battle-axe.

In 2001, while still in graduate school at Johns Hopkins, Summers partnered with six fellow classmates to battle damaging stereotypes through a nursing advocacy group. Since then, through its Web site,, the group has grown into a worldwide, grassroots network of colleagues who collectively research media portrayals of nursing, work to educate the public, and organize media campaigns to correct portrayals that exploit, distort, or misinform, and to encourage better ones. The group also fights an uphill battle to get the media to use nurses as expert sources for health care stories, and it supports increased funding for nursing through education and awareness.

The center has had particular success battling the "naughty nurse" stereotype. When a 2004 Skechers shoes ad featured Christina Aguilera as an S&M-style nurse with a garter belt, boots, and cleavage, the group organized a letter-writing protest that drew 3,000 letters and eventually brought the campaign to a halt.

They also induced TV talk show host "Dr. Phil" to issue a televised statement assuring nurses he respected them. This followed a comment he'd made on the show: "I've seen lots of cute little nurses go after doctors, because they're going to seduce and marry them a doctor, because that's their ticket out of having to work as a nurse." Summers and company elicited 1,300 letters of protest in five days. The chagrined "Dr. Phil" also promised to devote an entire show to the issue of the nursing profession and its image problem in the media.

But the center also has had its share of frustrations. Along with 20 million other viewers in the United States, Summers tunes in to the long-running television series ER almost every Thursday night. She rarely likes what she sees: an "insidious portrayal of nurses as wallpaper or handmaidens." Summers notes that ER tends to define nurses by their romantic relationships to physicians and frequently depicts physicians doing key tasks actually performed by nurses.

"Why doesn't the media show nurses who can identify a lethal cardiac rhythm and use defibrillation to bring someone back from the brink of death?" she asks. "On television, physicians are always the heroes, but in real life, nurses often do that heroic work."

Many weeks, after viewing ER, the center swings into action and posts an analysis of the show on the organization's Web site. They have worked for three years to get ER to consult nursing advisers for accuracy in its scripts — in addition to the show's current all-physician advisory staff — with no success.

Summers' primary concern is that erroneous media stereotypes exacerbate the nursing shortage, which first emerged in 1998 and now threatens to seriously undermine health care, both in the U.S. and globally. Her convictions are backed up by research showing that ER greatly influences public perceptions of nursing, including grade and high school students. "Public health is at stake," Summers says. "Nurses don't just change bedpans, hold hands, and gossip about physicians. We save and improve lives. We provide critical care for millions. We advocate for and protect patients. People die when there aren't enough nurses and when nursing is undermined by health care money managers."

By raising awareness, Summers also hopes to increase funding for the nursing profession. "Though we make up the bulk of the health care profession, only $1 out of $200 of the budget for the National Institutes of Health goes toward nursing research," Summers says. "If Congress knew what nurses really do, they'd increase that amount 20- or 40-fold and make a serious effort to resolve the nursing faculty shortage." —Jeanne Johnson

Iris Chang, A&S '91 (MA)
Remembering Iris Chang

Iris Chang, A&S '91 (MA), historian, activist, and best-selling author of The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, committed suicide on November 9, 2004, near Los Gatos, California. She was 36.

The late historian Stephen Ambrose described Chang as "maybe the best young historian we've got, because she understands that to communicate history, you've got to tell the story in an interesting way."

Iris Chang spent her career delving into some of the darkest aspects of human history.
Photo by Peter Stember
A graduate of the University of Illinois, Chang worked for the Associated Press and Chicago Tribune before enrolling in Hopkins' Writing Seminars. In 1993, she published her first book, Thread of the Silkworm, the story of a prominent Chinese physicist who was exiled from the United States during the McCarthy era and went on to pioneer China's ballistic missile program.

Chang is best known for The Rape of Nanking, in which she chronicled one of the bloodiest and most overlooked chapters of World War II. On November 13, 1937, Nanking, then China's capital, fell to Japanese troops. In the seven weeks that followed, Japanese soldiers tortured and executed roughly 350,000 Chinese civilians and soldiers and raped as many as 80,000 women and young girls.

In her book, Chang wrote about the "second rape of Nanking" — Japanese attempts to cover up the massacre, fueled by silence on the part of Americans, Europeans, and the Chinese. "I want the world to know what happened," Chang told Johns Hopkins Magazine in a 1997 interview. "I don't want these victims to be erased from history the way their lives were erased."

For Chang, telling such a painful story had a lasting effect. "She felt other people's suffering to the point that it made her suffer," said one close friend. Chang had fought depression during the last several months of her life and had recently been hospitalized after a breakdown.

Simultaneous memorials were held for Chang in Los Altos, California; Nanjing, China; and Washington, D.C., where a tribute to Chang was read into the Congressional Record.

In her last written words, Iris Chang asked to be remembered for the person she was before she became ill — a humble request in light of all she gave to ensure that others would not be forgotten.

Iris Chang is survived by her husband, Brett Douglas; their 2-year-old son; her parents; and her brother. Her family has established the Iris Chang Scholarship Fund at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. —Philip Tang, A&S '95

In the News...

In November, pediatrician Lynn Eckhert, SPH '73, '81 (DrPH), began her one-year tenure as chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Eckhert, who directs academic programs for Harvard Medical International, served on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts for more than two decades, where she remains a professor.

Miles Wolff, A&S '65, was selected as the 79th most important person in baseball history by John Thorn and Alan Schwarz in the eighth edition of Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia. Wolff is the current owner of the North Carolina farm team to the Cleveland Indian and the co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.

Carl A. Patow, MPH '96, executive director of the HealthPartners Institute for Medical Education and associate dean of faculty at HealthPartners for the University of Minnesota Medical School, has received a fellowship from the Archibald Bush Foundation to study resident education in Minnesota. His work to improve communication, create teamwork among medical disciplines, and empower residents could ultimately have a nationwide impact on established teaching approaches and accreditation.

On January 10, Charles P. Ries, A&S '72, SAIS '73, assumed his post as the new U.S. Ambassador to Greece. Three months earlier, Marcie B. Ries, SAIS '74, was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Albania. The Rieses are only the fourth couple in United States history to serve concurrently as ambassadors and the first to serve in contiguous countries.

Leadership Weekend Unfolds

Leadership Weekend took place October 21-23, 2004. The three-day gathering in Baltimore included the annual meeting of the Alumni Council, the governing body of the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association. The weekend also featured meetings of divisional alumni groups and advisory committees, a meeting of the university's Board of Trustees, and a gala celebrating the success of the Knowledge for the World campaign. The annual event allows alumni and friends to come together, reconnect with the university, and set a course for the year ahead.

The new officers of the Alumni Council: Back, left to right: Sonia Singh, SPH '99, secretary; Geraldine Peterson, Nurs '64, second vice president; Roderich M. (Rick) Carr, Engr '78, president; Ellen Oppenheimer, SPSBE '79, treasurer. Front: James Miller, A&S '64, vice president; Morgan (Mal) Buchner Jr., Engr '61, '65, second vice president.

Tony Dahbura, Engr '81, '82 (MS), '84 (PhD), shown here with outgoing alumni President Joe Reynolds and university President William Brody, received the Heritage Award. Dahbura is a member and past chair of the Society of Engineering Alumni, chair of the Computer Science Advisory Board, and member of the Whiting School National Advisory Council. He serves as the annual giving class agent for the class of 1981 and chaired his 20th reunion gift committee. Dahbura and his wife, Maria, have endowed the Jan Minkowski Undergraduate Scholarship, named after a former faculty member and mentor. In addition, Dahbura's company, family-owned Hub Labels, has sponsored a Mechanical Engineering Senior Design Project.

Roderich M. (Rick) Carr, Engr '78 (right), succeeded Joseph Reynolds, Engr '69 (left), as president of the Alumni Association. Carr, the first African-American to head the group, will serve a two-year term. Reynolds recently donated $2 million to the university to endow a professorship in the Whiting School of Engineering.

Ernie Bates, A&S '58, said in his keynote address that he knew he was being asked to be a pioneer at Johns Hopkins when he received his acceptance letter: "It said I was going to be one of the first 'Negroes' in the Arts and Sciences School," he recalled. Following are excerpts from his speech:

When my dad and I arrived at Hopkins on that fall day in 1954, I was surprised to discover that I was the only student without an assigned roommate. Not knowing quite what to make of this, I called my adviser, who told me that it was "too early to integrate the dorm." When my dad heard this, he said, "Let's hightail it out of here." He had serious misgivings about me desegregating Hopkins and was worried about me.

I decided to stay anyway. That decision proved to be a good one. The very next day I received over 20 offers from white students who volunteered to be my roommate.

That wonderful and welcoming response from my fellow students set the tone for my entire college experience. Not once during my four years at Hopkins did I hear a derogatory racial comment from anyone associated with Hopkins. I was never made to feel anything less than an equal and important member of the student body.

Just to complete the dorm story: I didn't accept any of the 20-plus offers from students that year. Instead, I made my room available to the African-American students who lived off campus. In my sophomore year, I did have a white roommate, Dave Ferrari. Our friendship and connection continues to this very day.

It was on the Hopkins football team that I forged my best and longest friendships. Our terrific team won the Mason-Dixon Championship in 1957. I think our 1957 football team and coaches were the best example of the courage and convictions of Hopkins students.

Did you know that Johns Hopkins was the first university in the Mason-Dixon Conference to integrate its teams? In doing so, Hopkins integrated the whole Mason-Dixon Conference. Everywhere we played, I was the first African-American to play on the field. Sometimes it wasn't exactly a bed of roses. I remember we once traveled to a college somewhere in the Jim Crow South. On the bus ride home, we pulled into a restaurant and were told it was segregated. I couldn't eat in the restaurant, but someone could carry food out to the bus for me. Dowd Schwartz, our team captain, would have none of it. He spoke up. "Look, Ernie is our teammate. He goes where we go. If he can't go into the restaurant, we don't eat here."

We drove another two hours before we found an integrated restaurant. This is the kind of morally correct attitude that makes Hopkins and its students great. . . .

But lest you think Hopkins was perfect in those days, let me assure you Hopkins still had a ways to go.

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I wanted to apply to Hopkins Medical School. It made me very sad when my adviser told me that Hopkins Medical School was still segregated — and that I shouldn't bother applying.

So, I went off to the University of Rochester Medical School on scholarship and graduated in 1962. Still thinking so fondly of Hopkins, I applied to Johns Hopkins Hospital for my internship. At my interview I learned that while Hopkins was ready to integrate its medical staff, the hospital wards were still segregated. I withdrew my application. I just couldn't overcome my moral objections to the segregation.

Fortunately, that's all history. Johns Hopkins University and the Medical Center have taken their place among the world's mostdiverse academic institutions. Just last week I was delighted to see that Black Enterprise Magazine ranked Johns Hopkins No. 35 of the top 50 best colleges for African-Americans. And Hopkins has been rewarded by the many achievements of its minority graduates over the last 50 years.

I credit my Johns Hopkins education with giving me the tools to have a successful career and develop lifelong friendships. Since leaving Hopkins in 1958, I became a physician, a neurosurgeon, CEO, founder of a healthcare company, and most recently, a vintner.

The intellectual curiosity and character traits hammered into us by our Hopkins professors helped me continue being a pioneer and innovator throughout my life. I was the third board-certified African-American neurosurgeon in America. I was only the fourth African-American to take a company public. Now I am one of seven African-American vintners. And I have made a dynamite cabernet — Wine Enthusiast 92 rating for the '99 with Hopkins graduate partner Jack Ruffle. . . .

I believe when one looks back on a successful career, you must realize that you didn't do it alone. You owe a good measure of gratitude to your parents and family who gave you a moral compass and paid most or part of the bills. And then there are the teachers and institutions that gave you your education. . . . And here's where you come in, dear audience. Albert Einstein said it best: "It's every man's obligation to put back in the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it."

I challenge all alumni to take Einstein's words to heart and repay Hopkins a small part of the enormous gift it has given us. In so doing, we will reap the rewards that Winston Churchill promised when he said, "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give."

Celebrating Success

Campaign co-chairs Barclay Knapp and Gail McGovern recognize 21 outstanding Knowledge for the World gifts. In October, nearly 800 guests gathered on the Homewood campus for a gala dinner to celebrate the success of the Johns Hopkins Knowledge for the World campaign. During the gala, Board of Trustees Chair Raymond A. "Chip" Mason announced that the campaign had surpassed the $1.5 billion mark. In fact, two and a half years after its public launch, the campaign has set a record for Johns Hopkins: $1.544 billion in gifts and commitments, more than three-quarters of the way toward its goal of $2 billion by 2007.

But the numbers only tell part of the story. Guests at the gala, held in a decked-out Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center, saw those numbers come to life through personal stories from students, professors, researchers, and patients who have benefited from donors' generosity. So far, donors have provided $125 million in support for student financial aid and fellowships and established 29 new endowed professorships. Campaign donors have also supported research, treatment, and educational programs across the university and Johns Hopkins Health System.

In addition, donors "have invested in exciting new research ventures, which promise to pay tremendous dividends for humanity in fields such as malaria control and cell engineering," said Johns Hopkins President William R. Brody in a post-gala e-mail message to faculty, staff, and students. "They have helped to position our campuses and our schools for the future, ensuring that they will prosper in an increasingly competitive environment for students and faculty." —Jeanne Johnson

Trustees Ralph S. O'Connor (left) and Morris W. Offit

Outstanding Knowledge for the World gifts include one from Steve and Mindy Geppi to support the Cardiovascular and Critical Care Tower, the Children's and Maternal Hospital, and programs in preventive cardiology and pediatric hematology.

From left: Wendy Brody, wife of President William R. Brody; Trustee Charles D. Miller; and Rand Mason, wife of Board of Trustees Chair Raymond A. "Chip" Mason.

Return to February 2005 Table of Contents
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