On the morning of Saturday, April 19, Mila Rainof, a member of the School of Medicine’s Class of 2008, was struck by a car as she crossed a busy street at the northern edge of the medical campus. Rainof, who was scheduled to begin a residency in emergency medicine in Oakland, Calif., in June, died the next day of severe head injuries. At a medical school “town meeting” called by Dean Robert J. Alpern, M.D., on the Monday after Rainof died, Alpern said, “The medical school family has lost a member—way too young in age.”
The Class of 2008 is a close-knit group, said class co-president Kristina Zdanys. The loss of any of its members would have been deeply felt, but Rainof was special. “Whenever she walked into a class or [the student cafeteria], she was always smiling or had something nice to say,” Zdanys said. One month later, as a procession of the 96 members of her class walked to Yale’s Old Campus for Commencement ceremonies, each graduate paused at the corner of York Street and South Frontage Road, where one by one, they placed a carnation in remembrance of Rainof, a beloved classmate who would not be with them on that joyous day. Because she had fulfilled all of the School of Medicine’s requirements for graduation, Rainof was awarded the M.D. degree posthumously as a member of the Class of 2008.
In the wake of her death, Rainof’s friends and classmates found many ways to honor her. Her close friends stood by Rainof’s parents and sister when they came to New Haven and organized a memorial service in the medical school’s Rose Garden, where friends remembered Rainof and called upon those gathered to perpetuate her memory by treating others with the same warmth, compassion and kindness that she showed to all. “Like everyone else,” said her boyfriend and classmate James Troy, “I was instantly won over by her amazing smile. All of us who spent time with her had no choice but to love her.” Friend and classmate Ellen House, who shared clinical rotations with Rainof, said that patients asked for “the smiley one.” She mourned for Rainof and for “all the future memories of Mila that I will never have.”
Karen J. Jubanyik, M.D., assistant professor of surgery, recalled a difficult shift she worked in the Emergency Department at Yale-New Haven Hospital the day after Rainof died.
“It was a typical Monday. The ambulance bay looked like Noah’s ark; they were coming in two by two. I had intubated two patients by 8 a.m. A woman with a breech baby came in active labor, looking like she was going to deliver on our doorstep. And more than a few patients were looking for specific narcotic medications by name . . . I just thought, ‘What would Mila do?’ She would dig in hard and contribute in every way possible. She would go to the patient’s bedside, hold their hand and genuinely listen to them, without judgment. Her life will go on if we all take what we learned from Mila and incorporate it into our daily life, in the world of medicine and at home. And if we teach this by example to those around us, Mila’s impact on this world can grow exponentially.” Friend and classmate Maggie Samuels-Kalow said, “Mila was the person that you wanted at your side when the patient was getting sicker and you didn’t know what to do.”
A group collected photos and remembrances for a book to be given to Rainof’s family, while other students also organized efforts to work with the city of New Haven to improve safety at intersections near the medical school. A cherry tree has been planted in her honor on Harkness Lawn.
The Mila Rainof, M.D. Memorial Fund and a new award for graduates entering emergency medicine have been established at the School of Medicine to honor and perpetuate her compassionate spirit and humanistic approach to medicine. For details on the fund or award, please contact Jancy Houck, director of medical development, at (203) 436-8560.