Saturday, September 8, 2018



Susan Stugaitis M.D., Ph.D.
I just learned the other day of the recent death of a former student from St. Vincent Academy, the girls' school where I taught for the year while St. Benedict's Prep was closed.  I remember Sue Stugaitis,a junior the year I was there, as one of those standout people that come along only rarely. She was a brilliant student and an all-around good person who attracted others by her upbeat personality.

I knew that she'd gone on to become a doctor, and her obituary notice filled me in on just what she'd been up to the past 45 years. The article included the following: : "She entered the medical scientist training program at New York University and completed her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees in 1992. From there, Susan relocated to Cleveland Heights and went on to a dedicated practice in neuropathology at the Cleveland Clinic for 17 years."

Now comes an ironic twist to the story of this brilliant research physician who had spent her professional life studying various brain diseases, including glioblastoma. In 2014 she herself began experiencing neurological symptoms, and eventually had a brain scan done there at the Cleveland Clinic.  

It turned out that there were only two specialists at Cleveland Clinic who were expert enough to read this particular kind of scan -- and one of them was Dr. Susan Stugaitis.  Can you imagine having to read your own brain scan, and seeing with your practiced eye, on the screen in front of you, the familiar image of a fatal glioblastoma?

Judging from the obituary, she made good use of the three or four years she had left, which is what you would have expected from Sue, even if you only knew her as a junior in high school.

At Vigils this morning I was thinking about her and the cruel ironic turn her life story took at the end. We happened to be celebrating today's feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. The reading and antiphons, the psalms and prayers stressed the idea of God's loving plan. The Lord foresaw the birth of the Savior, and so planned ahead of time "to prepare a worthy dwelling place for his Son" in the immaculate virgin.

Today's feast is based in the belief that God, in some mysterious way, is the Lord of History, and makes all things work unto good. We believe that beneath all of the suffering and death, the trauma and tragedy, the glioblastomas and the grief, runs the story of God's unending and infinite love for us.

The fact that the plot of the story is so often way beyond our ability to comprehend in this vale of tears is the reason that the Church gives us Mary as a model of someone who was able to trust the Lord and submit herself to God's mysterious will. Think of the different prayers to our Lady that  refer to sorrow and tears and the hour of our death.
I came away from Morning Prayer encouraged and comforted, by the prayers of Mary I'm sure, in my grief over the ironic death of Sue, a brilliant, loving woman who had devoted her life to fighting brain disease.

Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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