A student’s warm heart and “amazing” smile
Mila Rainof’s embrace of others has inspired an enduring memorial at the medical school.
As the 96 members of the Class of 2008 processed to Old Campus for Commencement on May 26, they paused at the corner of York Street and South Frontage Road. One by one, each graduate placed a carnation in memory of Mila Rainof, a classmate who was not with them in the procession.
On April 19 Rainof was struck by a car as she crossed the intersection. She died the next day of her 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.”
In the wake of her death, Rainof’s friends and classmates have 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. Others began collecting photos and remembrances for a book to be given to her family. Students have organized efforts to improve safety at intersections near the medical school. (See sidebar.) A memorial scholarship and award fund is being established at the School of Medicine to honor and perpetuate Rainof’s memory, in particular her compassionate spirit and humanistic approach to medicine. Students also planted a cherry tree in her honor on Harkness Lawn.
Rainof’s parents have shared with Merle Waxman, director of the Office for Women in Medicine and a mentor to Rainof, that their daughter loved Yale and was happy here. Her phone calls, they told Waxman, were always filled with her enthusiasm for her classmates, teachers and patients.
What friends remember best about Rainof is her warm and welcoming smile. “Like everyone else,” her boyfriend and classmate James Troy said at the Rose Garden memorial, “I was instantly won over by her amazing smile.” A friend and classmate, Ellen House, recalled sharing clinical rotations with Rainof and all the patients asking for “the smiley one.”
Margaret A. Drickamer, M.D., associate professor of medicine, recounted a trip to Seattle with Rainof to attend a conference. They walked all over the city, she said, talking and telling stories. “We laughed, we cried—and we did go to some poster sessions.” Beyond Rainof’s warm and friendly demeanor, Drickamer said, was a determination to help people. “Mila really cared about people, especially when she felt a responsibility for their welfare, and she steadfastly refused to let anything get in the way of that caring,” Drickamer said.
Karen J. Jubanyik, M.D., assistant professor of surgery (emergency medicine), described a difficult shift at Yale-New Haven Hospital the day after Rainof died. “I just thought, ‘What would Mila do?’ ” Jubanyik said. “She would contribute any way she could. She would go to the patient’s side, hold their hand and genuinely listen to them.” 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.”
Kristina Zdanys, one of the class co-presidents, said that the students in the Class of 2008 are a close-knit group and would have felt the loss of any of their members, but that Rainof was special. “Whenever she walked into a class or Marigolds, she was always smiling or had something nice to say,” Zdanys said.
“If you asked people to think of a person in the class who always made people feel good … she would be the first person,” said Rachel Wattier, who has been leading a committee that has met with city and university officials to improve traffic safety.
A few days before Commencement, students, faculty and others gathered at the intersection where the accident occurred. Bearing signs that read “Yield 4 Walkers,” and “No Turn on Red,” the group asked drivers to slow down and respect the traffic lights.
“There was really no one to blame,” Gregory L. Larkin, M.D., professor of surgery (emergency medicine), said at a meeting in The Anlyan Center the day after Rainof died. Larkin had been the attending in the emergency room when an ambulance delivered Rainof. The day before the accident, Larkin had been her teacher, instructing her in the use of ultrasound. Rainof was scheduled to begin a residency in emergency medicine in Oakland, Calif., after graduation.
On the morning of April 19 Rainof was on her way back to her York Street apartment after working out in the gym in Harkness Dormitory. A truck was leaving the loading dock of Yale-New Haven Hospital against a red light. As Rainof crossed South Frontage Road, also against the red light, the truck cleared the intersection and cars in the three oncoming lanes moved forward. Two swerved to avoid her, but a third struck her when she was just a yard away from the curb and safety. She died the next day of severe head injuries.