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All in a Day’s Work


Saving lives is routine stuff for many of the almost 500 Top Doctors who made the cut this year. But what do you do when a life is past the point of saving? Dr. Christina Clay, winner in the oncology category, offered a story so telling it’s worth expanding on here.

Early in her career, Clay had a patient with testicular cancer that progressed to the point where an aggressive, last-ditch treatment was his only option. “He was a 31-year-old man with an equally young wife, a bronze star from Vietnam, and a good job as a federal prison guard,” Clay told senior editor Tara Behan. “Steve, his wife and I talked a lot. When the time came for him to sign the consent forms, he decided not to go ahead. The rest of the staff was … Well, the only accurate description would be outraged.”

They urged Clay to talk him into trying the treatment. “I sat down again with him as he explained that he understood the chances of a cure were almost zero, and that the likelihood of dying alone in the hospital was high. He wasn’t afraid of dying. He’d faced it many times.”

Her patient found his way home, where, within a month, he passed away surrounded by his wife and family members, his close pals, and a group of hospice nurses. “They all adored him,” says Clay. “His funeral was huge, with an honor guard of active Marines, reserve Marines and California state prison guards.”

Clay’s story is a reminder that being a Top Doctor isn’t always about saving lives. Sometimes, it’s about quality of life. And for any patient, that has to be reassuring.

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE: Until senior writer J.F. Pirro came to me with the idea, I knew nothing about the profusion of local literary talent producing award-winning work for children and young adults. I can’t say I’m surprised, given the Main Line’s surplus of academic institutions and family-friendly communities. Among the 14 local authors and illustrators Pirro profiles in “Young at Heart” is Wyndmoor’s David Wiesner, whose sublimely clever 2001 book, The Three Pigs, is one of my daughter’s favorites. Its richly detailed illustrations leave a lasting impression not unlike the (admittedly very different) work of Maurice Sendak.

And speaking of Sendak, I did take my daughter to Spike Jonze’s multi-textured, somewhat bizarre cinematic take on the author’s 1963 masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are, thinking I may regret it at bedtime. No worries, though. She took the film’s frenzied action and intermittently intense scenes largely in stride.

Now, all that’s left is a family outing to the Rosenbach Museum & Library’s Maurice Sendak Gallery in Center City (rosenbach.org). Its latest exhibit, Too Many Thoughts to Chew: A Sendak Stew, runs through Jan. 17. Check out our Main Events section in this month’s print issue for more info.

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