|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XIX NUMBER 1 Fall 2003|
Doctors At Large
As they watched demolition crews reduce much of the Science Center into a pile of rubble, Leslie Loberant '93 and Ed King '91 admitted to mixed feelings.
Leslie and Ed, both medical doctors in Pennsylvania, visited Keene State for Reunion Weekend in May to receive the 2003 KSC Alumni Association Inspiration Award. Over the weekend, a crowd of alums watched a crane peel off the front of the old lecture hall and smash the cement floors into pieces.
"I was sad when it was torn down," Ed recalled. "We spent four years in that building, sitting on floors and in hallways studying. On the fourth floor there was a cubby with a couch. I slept there a few times – studying 'til 3 a.m., sleeping a few hours, and getting up to take a test."
But, said the couple, even a dozen years ago it was clear that the Science Center was an inadequate facility.
"It wasn't up to par for what Keene State needed it to be," explained Leslie, citing the lack of space and facilities for faculty. "Considering the quality of the professors and people who worked in the Science Center, they deserved a lot more."
Despite the cramped and outmoded working conditions in their primary classroom building, Leslie remembered Keene State as "one of the most positive experiences in our lives." The couple met at a biology club meeting in 1989, Leslie's first year, and again when Ed had to report the lacrosse club's finances to Leslie, who was the student government treasurer.
"It's been the same relationship ever since," laughed Ed.
They began taking the same classes, which would eventually earn them double majors in biology and chemistry. A moment in a general chemistry class with Jerry Jasinski, professor of chemistry, still resonates strongly with the couple.
"There are three kinds of people in this world," the professor explained that day. "There are those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened."
Leslie and Ed were quick to realize that Keene State offered some unusual opportunities to undergraduate students – namely, graduate-school-type relationships with faculty members – if students were motivated enough to seek them out. Although Keene State is not a research institution, professors here conduct research and need help with their projects, explained Ed. "We as undergraduates got better exposure to professors than we might have at another college," he said.
The couple took advantage of the opportunity to work one-on-one with faculty. With Patrick Eggleston, professor of biology, Leslie studied phytoplankton, microscopic ocean plants. She and Ken Bergman, professor of biology, also conducted research on "Handedness in a College Population." Both Ed and Leslie were awarded undergraduate research grants to work on chemistry projects with Dr. Jasinski and, in the summer of 1991, attended Northeastern University's School for Field Studies site in Costa Rica, where they conducted research on the diets of mantled howler monkeys. These experiences, explained Leslie, were ideal preparation for the rigors of medical school.
When they weren't studying, the couple was involved with student and local organizations. Leslie was treasurer of the senior class and of the student government; president of the biology club; and a member of Citizens for Political Reform, a New Hampshire grassroots organization. Ed held several positions in the biology and SCUBA diving clubs, played for four years on the club lacrosse team, and was secretary of the Chemistry Lyceum.
By the time they graduated, the couple had received just about every award possible from the College. Ed was recognized for his roles in recreational sports, both received the Outstanding Senior Award, and Leslie won the KSC President's Outstanding Women of New Hampshire Award for a student. In 1993, Leslie's academic prowess was recognized nationally, when she was voted onto the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team.
Keene State was the starting point not just for a lasting relationship, but also for lives centered on helping others. After graduating, Ed decided that he wanted to join Leslie in applying to medical school. But first, he loaded his mountain bike with 200 pounds of gear and cycled across the country, the sole rider – and founder – of the Bike-A-Thon across America Fundraiser for the child abuse program Children's Connection. At stops along the way, Ed took time out from fundraising to write part of his application and mail it to Leslie for editing.
Leslie and Ed attended Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. It was a period of "work, work, work," Ed recalled, although Leslie also remembered that they eventually got better at going out and enjoying themselves. They worked their first clinical rotation together in an inner-city emergency room, treating gunshot and knife wound victims to the sound of distant gunfire. Despite the nonstop work, Leslie still found time to help others by volunteering for a needle exchange program for addicts. On weekends she visited people enrolled in the program to provide first aid and swap new needles for old.
The call to help others, said Leslie, came from her parents, who lived on a kibbutz because they believed in working as a group to achieve the highest level of living for all. It was her and Ed's belief in this value that led the couple to save up their vacation and elective time at medical school to work in a hospice in the impoverished country of Uganda.
The experience was, Leslie said, incredible and terrible. AIDS and other diseases have ravaged Uganda, one of the poorest nations in the world. Ed and Leslie were confronted not only with patients dying from these diseases, but also with an African perception that AIDS was a creation of the West. "It was the belief of the people that AIDS was designed by the West to get rid of Africans," Leslie explained.
"This is their truth," said Ed.
The expectations Ugandans had of whites were huge. After a week of training in the hospice, Leslie accompanied a Ugandan nurse on a house visit. Upon seeing a white person with a stethoscope waiting by the car, the patient pointed and asked to see the "doctor." For a moment, Leslie said, she looked around to try to find the doctor the patient was asking for. Then, terrified, she realized that she was this person's doctor.
Ed and Leslie resolved to get to know the hospice patients, many of them children, better. They threw a Christmas party with gifts – shirts and other clothing – for every child. Many of the children, for whom gifts were a novelty, wouldn't open the packages, preferring the idea of a gift to the item inside. The couple, said Ed, also avoided visiting the American club across the road from the hospice, where they could have enjoyed comforts unknown to their Ugandan patients.
The African experience ended with a trek to see mountain gorillas and a safari in Kenya. Not long after the couple's visit, tourists on their way to see the same gorillas were murdered, and the American embassy in Nairobi was bombed. "We were getting a sense of what Africans live with," said Ed. "The reality is that the urban infra-structure could go at any minute and collapse into war. No one here has a fraction of an idea of what life is like there."
Following a visit to Israel, where Leslie and Ed worked for Leslie's father in a radiology lab, the couple returned to Pennsylvania to marry, complete their three-year residencies, and, finally, begin practicing as doctors – Ed as a pediatrician and Leslie as a family practitioner. They now live in Seven Fields, Pa., with their two-year-old daughter, Maya, a mortgage, and enormous student debt.
Life is busy as usual for the couple. Besides balancing long work hours with family time, Ed has rediscovered his love for art, namely, creating blown glass sculptures. Recognizing that this type of work exposes artists to toxic fumes and health problems, he also lectures on the topic to artist groups across the country. Leslie is coming to grips with the challenge of being a full-time mom and a part-time doctor.
"It's not a job for nine-to-fivers," said Ed ruefully.
The KSC Alumni Association award came as a surprise to the couple. "We're absolutely honored," said Ed. Leslie described feeling almost intimidated at the ceremony. "I felt humbled by the amount of experience and wisdom in the room," she said of receiving the award in front of older alums. "I thought, there's no way we deserve this. We've got such a long way to go."
"We've only just got started."
Dave Orsman is senior writer of Keene State Today.