February 8th, 2011
08:13 AM ET
In the Human Factor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces you to survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle - injury, illness or other hardship –- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. Dr. Lynne Holden's life changed in a split second after giving birth to her daughter. A very rare heart weakness nearly killed her. Here is her story in her own words.
From the time I saw "Marcus Welby, M.D." on television at the age of 6, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. When I was 8 years old, the only gift I wanted for Christmas was a book called "Gray's Anatomy." I could not sleep the night before in anticipation of that one gift.
After I opened that big package, my father told me I would have to know everything in that book if I became a physician. That was the beginning of my journey to become a doctor. I keep a copy of Gray’s Anatomy. This has been my visualization tool-the constant symbol of my dream.
It was not until the age of 13 that I met an African American female physician in Harlem, New York, named Dr. Muriel Petioni, the “Mother of Medicine in Harlem.” Now at the age of 97, she is still inspiring the younger generation to pursue the health professions. I have been profoundly influenced by so many mentors throughout my career.
I completed my undergraduate studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and my medical studies at Temple School of Medicine in my hometown of Philadelphia. I then pursued my residency training in emergency medicine at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. For 15 years, my career as a clinician has been nurtured at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx under the mentorship of Dr. E John Gallagher. Montefiore is the second-busiest Emergency Department in the United States. As an associate clinical professor, my academic career has blossomed at the Einstein College of Medicine.
In 1997, I learned what is was like to be a patient. One week after the birth of my daughter, I began to experience shortness of breath that progressed quickly over a few days. I knew something was desperately wrong, but I did not want to leave the house to seek help. I did not ever think that I would see my newborn daughter again.
I sought help at the Emergency Department at Montefiore Medical Center where I was diagnosed with peripartum cardiomyopathy. Peripartum cardiomyopathy is a rare and often fatal disorder that disproportionately affects African American females from the last months of pregnancy up to five months postpartum.
With my future uncertain, my husband challenged me to find a way to help other young people to achieve their dream of pursuing a health career. I was given many medications to aide in my recuperation, which lasted over nine months. My survival was miraculous! I was able to return to the profession that has been so meaningful to me.
Nine years later, I met a young lady on a crowded subway ride from the Bronx to Brooklyn. She spotted the book I was reading called "Gifted Hands," by Benjamin Carson, M.D. She told me that she was a single mother juggling two jobs, but her youngest son wanted to be a brain surgeon after reading the same book in his sixth-grade class. She felt helpless because she did not know how to help him to achieve his dream. I instantly thought of the three practicing neurosurgeons that I knew who could serve as mentors. I remembered my husband’s challenge. That was my epiphany!
The nonprofit organization, Mentoring in Medicine, Inc. was born. According to the American Association of Medical Colleges, African American, Latino/a and Native Americans make up 25% of the population, but they account for only 12% of U.S. medical school graduates. I called upon some colleagues and poured many hours into creating programs to inspire and educate students about biological sciences, health careers and healthy living. Mentoring in Medicine has designed programs for students from elementary school through graduation from health professional school.
Through this process, I have discovered my calling. My spiritual walk has been strengthened with support from the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. I am continually humbled by the recognition received, such as the prestigious 2009 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award and the 2010 Lifetime TV Remarkable Woman Award, for pursuing what I have been called to do.
Montefiore Medical Center has a strong commitment to the surrounding community and has served as a wonderful incubator for the college level Mentoring in Medicine programs. With the support of the leadership at Montefiore, we have been successful in creating meaningful programs with impressive results. Mentoring in Medicine has attracted a variety of very busy health care professional volunteers—nearly 650.
In this economic climate, the hardest part has been raising funds to support the replication of our successful projects. But with the support of The National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health and the Friends of the National Library of Medicine, we have been able to work with public high schools such as Frederick Douglass Academy I in Harlem to provide science enrichment and an introduction to health careers.
I am a strong believer in the power of visualization! It was the pastor and scholar William Arthur Ward who stated, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.” Mentoring in Medicine, Inc. ™ helps students through academic enrichment, leadership development, community service and mentoring to create a strategic plan for successful attainment of their dream.
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.