Mila Rainof lives on in annual lecture given by experts in organ transplantation

In the final months of her life, Mila Rainof, M.D. ’08, talked with her sister every day. “We were both very, very excited to finally be doing what we wanted to do,” Rebecca Rainof Mas remembered. Rainof was about to graduate from the School of Medicine and head off to a residency in emergency medicine. Mas had finished her doctorate in English literature and was looking forward to starting a faculty position while also planning her wedding. The conversation was particularly buoyant on the day that Rainof learned she and her boyfriend had each gotten their top choices of residencies and would be able to continue their careers in the same city. “I’m so happy. I’m so happy. I’m so happy,” she declared.

That time of joyful expectation ended when Mila Rainof was struck by a car just four weeks before Commencement and died of her injuries the next day. But even in death, the young woman on the verge of becoming a physician saved lives. Before even arriving at Yale-New Haven Hospital to see her sister, Mas and her parents discussed donating Rainof’s organs.

“We all knew that this was a final act in keeping with how she lived her life,” said Mas. Six patients received life-saving transplants through the donation, including a 2-year-old.

The Yale-New Haven Transplantation Center has established the Mila Rainof Lecture in her memory. The inaugural lecture will be given by David Sutherland, M.D., head of the transplant division at the University of Minnesota. The lecture will be held in the Fitkin Auditorium on Wednesday, October 6, at 5 p.m. Sutherland is a pioneer in pancreatic transplant surgery. He performed the world's first transplant of insulin-producing islet cells from a deceased human donor to a living person in 1974 and the first living-donor pancreas transplant in 1979. He also developed specialized surgeries to prevent the onset of diabetes upon the removal of a pancreas in the case of chronic pancreatitis.

Sukru Emre, M.D., transplantation center director, said that he was determined to have a world leader in the field speak in Rainof’s honor. He remembers meeting her while she worked in the intensive care unit and being struck by her dedication. “She wanted to do more. She wanted to participate in everything. I thought Mila should be with us forever through this lecture.”

To her sister, Rainof was many things, “very fiery and sassy and smart.” Even as a little girl, she had a lightening-quick wit. But the trait that stands out most in Mas’ memory was her younger sister’s resolve to give. When the Rainof family went to Mila’s apartment after days spent at the hospital, they saw carefully wrapped gifts sitting in a row. Rainof had died on her boyfriend’s birthday.

Mila Rainof chose emergency medicine for many reasons, including the intellectual challenge it offered and a schedule relatively conducive to starting a family. But she also thought about that hypothetical dramatic moment when someone on an aircraft is suddenly taken ill and the flight attendant asks, “Is there a doctor on the plane?”

Emergency medicine would prepare her, she reasoned, no matter what the circumstances, to save a life.

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Sukru Emre

Professor of Surgery (Transplant) and of Pediatrics