“Look what I found at the Salvation Army store!” my wife beams, holding up a crinkled document in her hand.
The yellowed paper had caught her eye when she dropped off our yearly donation of old clothing that afternoon. She purchased it for two dollars.
I take the heavy paper document in my hand and run my fingers along the edge. It measures six by eight inches. The printing is script, all Latin, except for the calligraphied name and signature at the bottom. I read the title. It appears to be a diploma dated June 6, 1965, conferring an undergraduate degree from Smith College on Francesca Morosani Thompson.
“I researched the name,” my wife continues, showing me the page on her MacBook. “Here—you can read it for yourself.”
A black and white photograph is posted above a few short paragraphs of text. Underneath the picture appear the woman’s name and dates of birth and death—the obituary of Francesca Morosani Thompson, M.D.
My eyes dart rapidly across the lines of virtual type. Francesca M. Thompson was born in Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1945. She attended Smith College where she earned an undergraduate degree in social work, then went on to pursue her M.D. at Cornell University Medical School. Dr. Thompson subsequently completed a residency in orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, where she served as that institution’s first female orthopedic resident.
After completing a fellowship in foot and ankle surgery, Dr. Thompson became the chief of the Adult Orthopaedic Foot Clinic at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Medical Center in New York; a co-director of the Combined Foot and Ankle Fellowship at the Hospital for Special Surgery, and a clinical assistant professor of orthopedics at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Midway through her promising career she developed multiple myeloma—cancer of the bone marrow—in 1986.
Dr. Thompson received the first autologous bone marrow transplant for treatment of multiple myeloma, at that time an experimental procedure where the patient’s marrow is extracted, irradiated and returned to the body. The treatment bought her another decade of life.
As a physician Dr. Thompson documented the journey of her illness in a book, Going for the Cure.
Shortly before what would be her final hospitalization, Dr. Thompson scrubbed in as attending surgeon with her fellow and resident. She completed the 5-hour surgical procedure on the patient while sitting in a wheel chair.
Dr. Thompson’s life stands as a role model for women in orthopaedic surgery. She was kind yet firm, direct without being confrontational, and intelligent yet not condescending.
I finish the last line of the obit and turn my attention to the wrinkled document in my hand—a small piece of history that speaks to the soul of a courageous individual, one who strove to continue to practice humane medicine to the end.