About Sandy Welner, M.D. and the Welner
Sandy Welner, M.D. was a huge figure to the health care
community and to the patients she served, and our family is humbled by her legacy
and example. I am privileged to introduce you to her in greater detail.
was a born problem-solver, who always targeted an endpoint and demonstrated remarkable
creativity and ingenuity for making her community a better place. Her remarkable
ability to communicate complex ideas in simple terms helped her patients better
care for themselves, and drew those unfamiliar with the needs of people with disabilities
to be more open, responsive, and even commit interest and resources. Her advocacy
was real and heartfelt, and above all, selfless.
Even before her accident
in 1987, Sandy was responsible for groundbreaking research in using Pergonal to
treat infertility, at the very early stages of her career. Even then, she was
essentially helping people who experienced themselves as disabled by their inability
to conceive and bear children.
catastrophically, she overcame a very dim prognosis, a three
year period of total physical dependence, and ultimately,
the permanent loss of her previous physical capabilities to
nevertheless define her new vehicle to contribute to patient
care. Dr. Welner's innate caring and patient-centered attitude
sensitized her to the greater ramifications of her own experiences
as a woman with disabilities navigating various sectors of
the health-care system.
She studied, wrote,
and inspired discussion about the unique needs of the the woman with disabilities
patient before medicine widely recognized the unique gynecologic needs of a huge
sector of patients. Building upon this, Dr. Welner founded a program in 1993 for
the gynecologic care of women with disabilities at Washington Hospital Center
that was before its time.
While a lack of funding support ultimately scuttled
the Washington Hospital program within two years, Dr. Welner drew from a large
patient pool in the Washington, DC area, and cultivated an unparalleled scientific
and anecdotal sophistication for the needs of these special patients. So devoted
was Dr. Welner that her patients reached out to her long after the discontinuation
of the program, even to her death in 2001.
Recognizing that women with disabilities
may skip important medical follow up because mobility problems can make doctors'
appointments an ordeal, Dr. Welner designed the first universally accessible examination
table for women with disabilities. The Welner Table is found in facilities around
the world. It reflects the necessary sensitivity to accessible care at the level
of the examination room, beyond mere ramps and wide elevators.
genteel advocacy explored and explained special problems facing women with disabilities
from contraception to infections to bleeding to estrogen replacement, to those
seeking enjoyable sexuality to those suffering sexually transmitted diseases,
from cervical to breast malignancy screening. She was a master of idealistic problem
solving, with an incredible eye for detail.
A number of patients with disabilities
drew from Dr. Welner's commitment and encouragement in overcoming obstacles to
fertility and parenting. She inspired her patients and contemporaries to believe
in themselves and their right to a satisfying lifestyle. Dr. Welner remembered
well the tenacity she needed to overcome not only her own physical handicaps,
but the preconceptions and prejudices of even well-meaning peers about what she
could contribute. Many physically, emotionally, and intellectually handicapped
looked to her as their Ambassador, sensitive to the prejudices they were encountering,
but with the diplomacy and steely determination to succeed and clear the way for
others to find more opportunity. Sandy loyally accepted these responsibilities.
Welner contributed to women's health on a much broader scale through her committee
work with various agencies, from the US Department of Health and Human Services
and the Center for Disease Control, to states' health departments and health care
institutions such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. These
organizations' policies for caring for the disabled were shaped directly by Sandra
Welner, M.D. She lectured all over the world at university grand rounds, conferences,
and invited special sessions at venues as notable as the United Nations. And she
unpretentiously gave to all who asked - and responded just as quickly to the needs
of her family and friends. She volunteered at the Sharpe High School for the disabled
in the Washington area, inspiring high school students to dream, and to achieve,
whatever their limitations.
In recent years, Sandy concentrated her academic
and research activities in Washington, DC, as a faculty member of Georgetown and
Maryland University medical centers. She researched breast examination accessibility
throughout the Washington, DC area in order to promote the modification of their
environments to accommodate patients with disabilities.
She developed and
produced literature and videotapes designed to educate the the patient with upper-body
disabilities to self-examination and breast health. In preparing her patient education
materials, Dr. Welner never forgot that some would have difficulty grasping technical
concepts; she tailored materials to cultures as specific as Native American, and
to Spanish speakers, and to the uneducated.
Dr. Welner contributed scores of peer-reviewed articles and
book chapters on topics pertaining to the health care of the
disabled. She was a regular contributor to Audio Digest, an
educational reference series for physicians, as well. At the
time of her death, Sandy was completing editing the first
edition of a comprehensive textbook on disabled woman's health.
It is the first of its kind. This reference text will be published
in 2003 by Lippincott Press.
Sandra Welner, M.D. personified a humble, self-effacing
individual who used every cell of hers to help others. Her
legacy endures in the medical centers she inspired, in the
patients she cared for, and in the patients her Welner Table
cradles. Her family feels her presence, and her force touches
a larger family of many who never met her. We all, nevertheless,
will be better for having been graced by her on this earth.
incredibly tragic passing, we received wonderful letters from many, many people
she had touched. And Dr. Welner's efforts continue to inspire. Magee Womens' Hospital
in Pittsburgh, unveiling a wing specially designed to care for women with disabilities,
dedicated its new facility to Dr. Welner. She was also honored by the National
Resource Center for Parents with Disabilities with its Disability Rights Advocate
Award, for "her commitment and genius in developing universally designed
medical examination equipment, and for her work to improve the health care provision
to people with disabilities." What a great lady she was. We hope her memory
continues to spur those who devote their energies to caring for this special population.
We do our part, with Welner Enabled. The extraordinary Dr. Welner would be quietly
President, Welner Enabled