Tragedy. Those poor kids. Their whole lives … gone.
It’s a terrible atrocity against our own citizens.
IRREVERSIBLE, IRREPARABLE brain damage!
I stared at the page, at the incomprehensible symbols that swam there. This negativity was in my head, retelling my creeping doom again and again. I wanted to shut it out, but I had heard it for too long. At home. At school. At the grocery store. The pity followed me, in a way I was pity.
The page — some called it futile. We lead babies couldn’t decipher it. It was pattern matching — something the cognitively impaired couldn’t do very well. Figure out the rules and pick the best option. If I let myself, it did feel futile.
But I’m not a statistic. I’m not a tragedy to be mourned and ignored. I had that fire in my belly. But they’d say,
You can’t take the tests again
Oh honey, just let it go
This isn’t for you
Don’t be so stubborn, we’re trying to help you
I didn’t wish for pity or help or the ability to prove myself. Instead, I simply refused to go quietly behind the curtain after my neighborhood’s great tragedy had finished its act on stage. I am still a person. I didn’t have a say in what happened to me when I was an infant, but I damn well had a say now.
So I stared at the page.
Not that I knew it then, but that fire is what saved me, what saved so many of us. I still have that muddled memory of DEE HANNA-A, as best I knew her then, looking deep into my eyes and seeing me in there. Her acknowledgment would not have been enough. Her hundreds of hours would not have been enough, her sacrifices not enough. It took more than just one person believing in us lead babies. It took an army and a long supply train to fight off permanent disability — an army with the hearts of lions and the patience of saints.
I took a deep breath and wiped my eyes. Without her groundbreaking research, without the treatments we pioneered, I could not have succeeded — I would have stared at that page until I went blind. I would have insisted on retrying until they shut me away.
But instead, I was here in this moment, and I looked again at the page. I felt clarity. And the fourth time I took the SAT, I answered the questions.
Dear Admissions Committee for the Medical Class of 2040,
A doctor saved my generation of children in Flint, Michigan. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha gathered evidence of lead poisoning in the Great Water Crisis of 2015, when I was an infant there. She stood her ground, because she knew the chemistry, and the physiology, and especially the pathology, and she felt the responsibility for our health and our future when the now disgraced officials did not. She knew what to do in a crisis, and in the aftermath she championed our education, our recovery. I was poisoned by lead from the tap until I was two years old, and at that point everyone saw developmental delays, and expected for none of us to recover. It was hard work all around, but physicians prescribed occupational therapy, speech therapy, medical interventions, nutrition plans, nature trips and I am the product of a community that rallied around me and my fellow lead babies.
School was not always easy for me, but under the watchful eyes of teachers and therapists, and always the pediatricians and neurologists, I was able to improve. The rich environment provided by the early childhood development program was free for my peers and me, and within it my brain healed and grew. It was thought, in 2016, that my generation could never recover from the harm that was done to us by negligence and bad policy, but as medicine is always advancing, we were the guinea pigs for neurodevorecovery. And I grew up knowing that the doctors were not only healers, but stewards of their most vulnerable patients. Inspired by our protector, I worked hard, and embraced each educational intervention. I decided, by the time I could answer the question, that I would be a doctor one day.
Despite being told I’d be lucky to graduate, I was valedictorian of my high school class, and worked every summer in the neurodev labs that were funded by the crisis endowment through the Flint Child Health and Development Fund. I stayed close to the medicine that saved our minds, and through my undergraduate research with remote nanostimulation in a mouse model, explored mature and maturing brain plasticity. Using the same principles I believe we can make a difference in populations with adult onset neuropsychiatric disorders.
I was an intern at the Society of Physicians for Environmental Sustainability, helping to develop policy that is still reversing the problems from the industrio-tech-frac age. I am devoted to making sure that what happened to my hometown never happens again.
So I would be honored to receive my training as a physician and swear the Hippocratic Oath in the incoming class of doctors. I am prepared at my core to first do no harm.
Thank you for considering my application.
Please consider donating to the victims of the Flint Water Crisis here.