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A Tough Job Made Tougher

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Stanley Wainapel

Eugene Richards

Physiatrist Stanley Wainapel uses various vision assistance technologies in his practice at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

The Physiatrist

Stanley Wainapel’s mother and father, a nurse and a doctor, dreamed of their son following them into medicine. But at age eight he developed choroideremia, a condition that gradually narrows the field of vision to the point of blindness. Still, Wainapel’s ophthalmologist encouraged him to attend medical school—a very enlightened attitude, says Wainapel, 67, who graduated from Boston University School of Medicine in 1970: “He was thinking about what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do.”

Though Wainapel’s range of vision had narrowed, during medical school he could still see well enough to read and use a microscope. But by 1985, he had to begin using a white cane, and for the past 10 years or so he has lived with near-total blindness.

Physiatrist Stanley Wainapel examining a patient.

Eugene Richards

Physiatrist Stanley Wainapel, almost completely blind for the last 10 years, examines a patient.

A physiatrist, Wainapel treats patients with disabilities resulting from disease or injury. Diagnosing some problems, such as skin rashes or wounds, requires vision, so Wainapel will bring in a colleague to assist. But Wainapel says that his remaining senses provide a wealth of information, and he believes there are times when sight gets in the way. After all, how do most doctors listen to a faint heart murmur? “They close their eyes,” he says, “because they want to focus on the sound.”

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Perseverance in Practice

Three physicians embrace careers in medicine despite their disabilities.

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