Passion and Purpose: Interviews with Legal and Health Professionals (Part Six)

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It is always interesting to hear stories of professionals in the fields of law and medicine, particularly why they chose their careers. It is even more interesting to hear them discuss what motivates them to go to work every day and what they love the most about their jobs. Doctors and lawyers also tend to have very interesting stories about clients and patients they have served during the course of their career.

For example, one of the doctors we interviewed recalls a time he was working at a hospital and had a patient who came in unresponsive with a bleed in his brain. He successfully treated the man back to recovery. Several months later, that same man returned to the hospital to visit someone else. The man recognized the doctor, ran up to him and said, “You saved my life, I remember you, thank you so much!” The man explained to the doctor that he couldn’t have survived without the hospital’s treatment.

Stories like this are the stories you never hear. These are the types of experiences that keep our legal and medical professionals motivated to serve us in times of need.

Here is Part Six of the interviews we did with doctors and lawyers across the United States. Here is Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.

26) Don Hayden with Mark Migdal & Hayden

What made you decide to become an attorney?

As a child, I fainted at the sight of blood so my parents’ hopes of me being a doctor or involved in the medical profession in general were dashed. I loved to argue and have always been told I have a bit of a competitive streak in me. After clerking for a summer with some big name trial lawyers following my first year of law school, there was no going back.

How long have you been practicing?

Been practicing for 32 years, 29 of which were with Baker & McKenzie, a truly global law firm as both a practicing trial lawyer and a managing partner. In recent months, decided to go in a quite different direction, seeing the dynamic changes in the legal profession being demanded by clients wanting their attorneys to think outside the box and with available technology and practice management, provide transparency and cost predictability in a litigation context. Started a litigation law firm, Mark Migdal & Hayden, where we would not be tied to the billable hour but rather to providing alternative fee arrangements to meet our clients’ needs.

What do you love the most about being an attorney?

Developing a creative legal strategy, sticking with it, and getting the client the end result you promised in the most cost-efficient manner. The satisfaction that comes with knowing you wrote a superior brief or connected with the panel in an oral argument – you know when you feel it.

Describe a memorable story of a client? What was so memorable about this client?

Represented a female partner in a same sex relationship, Janice Langbehn, whose partner of 18 years, Lisa Marie Pond, collapsed after boarding a cruise ship with their three children. Lisa was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital with Janice and children in tow right behind the ambulance. Despite providing the hospital with all of the necessary paperwork with regard to her role as health surrogate, having power of attorney, and the recognized domestic partner of Lisa in the state of Washington, Janice and her family were denied access to Lisa for over eight hours and were told that she was in an “anti-gay city and state” by the social worker on duty. Lisa slipped into a coma and died without her partner of 18 years or her children by her side.

This was before the recent marriage equality rulings of the US Supreme Court, and Lambda Legal, who I was co-counseling with was concerned about making constitutional arguments in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals because of bad law out of that court in contesting Florida’s then gay adoption ban a few years before. Left with tort, emotional distress and common law claims, we filed a well-publicized federal lawsuit that was before Judge Adalberto Jordan, a well-respected jurist who is now on the 11th Circuit and who had clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

We ended up losing the case with Judge Jordan finding that Florida law at the time offered the family no legal relief although he found that the hospital and its staff’s “lack of sensitivity and attention to Janice and her family caused them needless distress during a time of vulnerability” and their actions “exhibited a lack of compassion and was unbecoming of a renowned trauma center…” Despite losing the legal battle, this case caught the attention of President Barrack Obama who on April 15, 2010, called Janice from Air Force One to apologize for the treatment her family received and to advise her of the memorandum signed earlier that day that required all medical facilities receiving funds through any federal government program to assure that same-sex couples receive the same hospital visitation rights to those of married and opposite sex couples. It dramatically changed the rights of same-sex couples for hospital visitation, highlighted the inequities to same-sex families prevalent throughout the country.

This terrible tragedy led Janice Langbehn to become a gay activist fighting for the rights of others who were unfairly mistreated. On October 20, 2011, Janice received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Obama. Our case was also an impetus for Janice, a health care social worker, to attend law school at night. She is presently studying at Seattle University School of Law and an intern with the public defender’s office in King County Washington. Jackson Memorial Hospital dramatically changed its policies on visitation and all other diversity issues, and a 100% ranking in the Human Rights Campaign Equality Index, and is a primary sponsor of the annual Miami Gay Pride celebration. While I lost the initial battle, I felt that I made a bit of a difference not only for same sex couples in the hospital visitation context, but made a difference for Janice and her kids.

27) Danielle G. Van Ess, Attorney at DGVE Law, LLC

What made you decide to become an attorney?

I drew myself as a lawyer, helping people by reading and writing, in a self-portrait for a 3rd grade parents' open house.

How long have you been practicing?

I have been a licensed attorney for 16 years.

What do you love the most about being an attorney?-

Lawyers have such a bad reputation overall but some of us really do try to make peace and avoid conflict in the world. I still have a stash of thank you notes I received from an old job and in my own firm today, my favorite moments are when my clients sign their estate plans (health care directives, end of life wishes, legally appoint guardians for their children, etc.) into place and I can literally see their shoulders drop and hear them breathe easier. I'm in this for the people and have to be because, despite misguided impressions, not all lawyers, especially not we "main street" type small town attorneys, make a fortune.

Describe a memorable story of a client? What was so memorable about this client?

One young couple created their estate plan with me years ago while they were young and healthy, just because they knew they should "adult" that way. One of them became very ill very suddenly and the legal documents I'd drafted worked as intended to reduce the other's stress and provide a great deal of peace of mind during a horrendous time. My clients often walk in as strangers, but they leave as extended family. In that case, I felt the loss of that family member deeply, but I have fond memories of getting to know that client over time and I feel a deep, ongoing responsibility to care for the family members left behind.

28) Dr. Raul Cruz, Lead Anesthesiologist at Ketamine Health Centers

What made you decide to become a physician?

I come from a long line of family doctors. My grandfather was a general practitioner who served as an internist, specializing in surgery, obstetrics, and gynecology. My father was a psychiatrist, and I work alongside my brother, who is also a board-certified psychiatrist. I credit my innate interest in medicine to my family background. I’ve always been particularly fascinated by biology and the functions of the human body; how it works, and how to help patients when they’re not feeling well.

When I was in college, my father succumbed to gastric cancer and that instantly gave me a greater understanding of the fragility of life. In that moment, I knew that I wanted to attain the skills to make a difference in the lives of those suffering.

How long have you been practicing?

I have worked clinically as a physician for over a decade and as a board-certified anesthesiologist for seven years. I have primarily specialized in the full spectrum of Anesthesiology, ranging from procedural medicine to all surgical sub-specialties, including Level 1 Trauma and burn surgery. Throughout my years in the medical practice, my most fulfilling focus has been in the use of and delivery of IV ketamine infusions for mental health and chronic pain indications in the clinic setting, all in collaboration with psychiatry. I also have extensive experience using ketamine as an analgesic and sedative in the treatment of burn patients, as well as those with acute and postoperative pain in the hospital setting. I am currently successfully treating patients with depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and neuropathic pain syndromes in my clinic, with amazing results.

What do you love the most about being a physician?

What I love the most about being a physician is the privilege to make a profound, life-changing difference in people’s lives. It is an incredible responsibility for people to place their full trust in your hands, to better them physically, emotionally, and/or mentally. I cannot think of anything else that gives me greater satisfaction than helping better someone’s life.

Describe a memorable story of a patient? What was so memorable about this patient?

All my patients have compelling stories, but one that really stands out this year is Daisy’s (her name has been modified due to patient confidentiality). Two days before Daisy’s appointment, she was suicidal and required immediate assistance for treatment-resistant depression, a term used in clinical psychiatry to describe cases of clinically-depressed individuals who do not respond adequately to at least two antidepressants. She has been battling this mental condition for over 30 years due to a prior history of sexual abuse as a child.

As soon as we identified Daisy’s candidacy for ketamine infusion therapy, we began treatments and routine psychotherapy sessions. Within 24 hours, a low-dose of ketamine infusion significantly shifted Daisy’s attitude, from complete hopelessness and on the verge of ending her life, to complete remission of her depression in a matter of one day. She is no longer suicidal and has a positive outlook on life, now desiring to become an advocate for the 16 million Americans living with depression. The mere fact that she attributes our clinic to saving her life is beyond words. Thus, I could not ask for a more rewarding profession.

29) Name: Jaclyn Celebrezze, Attorney at Celebrezze Law, LLC

What made you decide to become an attorney?

As a congressional intern I had the opportunity to work on visa and immigration issues for my local community—I got to draft my first letter to a U.S. Embassy and I knew I had found my calling.

How long have you been practicing?

I’ve been practicing in immigration law for 7 years.

What do you love the most about being an attorney?

In immigration law, every day is different. In a given day I work on matters across a variety of industries from outstanding medical researchers to world-renowned musicians, athletes and artists. It’s incredible to get a peek inside these different worlds.

Describe a memorable story of a client? What was so memorable about this client?

The most memorable and meaningful part of my job, actually comes after my work is done. It’s in the cards and letters I receive each holiday season -the family trip to Disney World or a child’s first ballet recital-it’s a front row seat to watching individuals follow their American dream.

30) Jessica Childress, Attorney at Childress Firm PLLC

What made you decide to become an attorney?

I always loved advocating for a position and using advocacy to help people in challenging situations. In high school, I was on the high school debate team, and in college, I was both a judge and a counselor on our student judiciary committee. My college experience of adjudicating issues of student misconduct and representing students during those adjudication hearings affirmed that I wanted to be an attorney.

How long have you been practicing?

6 years.

What do you love the most about being an attorney?

I love being a student, and as an attorney, each day, I am challenged, and each day, I learn something new. The law is complex and takes dedication and time to understand, interpret, and apply. I believe that great lawyers are able to make the law understandable for their clients, who often come to lawyers in times of challenge. I enjoy working through complex legal issues with my clients. I take great pride in knowing that my legal services helped them overcome an obstacle that they were facing.

In 2016, I launched a children's content company, which produces products and services teaching kids about the law, called Juris Prudence LLC. The company is based on my children's book, The Briefcase of Juris P. Prudence, a fun book about an 11 year-old lawyer who takes on cases helping kids. As a practicing attorney, I enjoy creating an art form that exposes kids to the law and demonstrates that the essence of being a lawyer is to help those in need.

Describe a memorable story of a client? What was so memorable about this client?

Working with startup companies is always a memorable experience because you are able to help someone legally protect something that they have poured blood, sweat, and tears into creating.

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