Its been almost four years, Sherry....

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/06/10 03:01 -04:00, original URI:

I was looking through email today trying to find a particular one, and ran across one that slayed me. This is a story I have never really told anyone in full before, for reasons that I cannot fully explain. It was not really a love story or anything like that. But it was a something of a defining friendship for me, and maybe I was just holding on to the story to keep it whole, for me....

I was reminded of the whole thing two nights ago at the "Women in Technology" Birds of a Feather that Julie Lerman gave. I even talked about my friend for a bit and I think my voice was steady.

You see, four years ago, I was sending a nervous email to someone who had once been a good friend of mine from back when I lived in Connecticut.

Dr. Sherry Apple, who years before had been a neurosurgical resident at Hartford Hospital, and I had an interesting relationship. Almost 20 years senior to me, she looked at this somewhat lost young man with some dreams that did not look like they were going anywhere, as she herself sat in a neurosurgical residency program headed by someone who did not feel women belonged in neurosurgery at all, especially not this mouthy blonde from the South. I guess we were kindred spirits in a way, both feeling like we were being held back from what we wanted, whether by random or by not-so-random circumstances in life. And as I helped her study even way back then for her boards, while daring to dream of maybe even taking them myself some day. I still know my cranial nerves, and I still crack that Manter and Gatz from time to time, remembering those days.

Those days when she helped me believe in myself again, at a time when I truly needed someone to help me do that.

When I left Hartford, we lost touch for a few years. But when I needed to have a radiofrequency rhizotomy done for trigeminal neuralgia, I asked Charles E. Poletti, M.D. if he would do it, and Sherry asked me (almost shyly!) if I would be okay with her scrubbing in for the procedure. I told her I would not want it any other way....

It is an interesting surgery, where they use a short acting anesthesia (Brevital) since the neurosurgeon has to wake you so you can answer questions about sensation. As they work to deaden a small part of the trigeminal nerve without destroying too much of it. By the report of both the doctor and one of the nurses who was there, when I started acting up, Sherry holding my hand was all I needed to keep calm (I was a bit too doped up to remember it, but she admitted it reluctantly later when confronted with the story). I did well post-op and flew home, and we lost touch again for a while...

Suddenly I came across a random article about that same mouthy blonde, who was neither radio announcer nor singer nor guitarist (though she had been each of those things, over the years!). She was a neurosurgeon in practice in West Virginia! She was the president of WINS (Women in Neurosurgery) and I felt a pride that I have seldom felt before or since, knowing that at least a few times that she wanted to give up I helped convince her to stick with it. And she made it!

I sent her a tentative email, afraid she may not remember who I was -- I have known several neurosurgeons who tend to not remember the people who knew them when they were less than done with their training. Or maybe afraid that she would remember and be disappointed since I had so clearly taken a different path, miles away from medicine.

But such fears were unfounded in this case -- she not only remembered me but had just been thinking about me in relation to something she was working on. And we were soon emailing back and forth frantically, as she asked if I would be willing to help her find or maybe even write something for her that would help her create Kaplan Meyer curves for a study she was wanting to work on (none of the things she had found seemed to fit exactly. I readily said yes, and after it became clear that she was correct -- none of the packages I saw either would do exactly what she was looking for -- I started working on something to do the job....

The last email I have from her was dated May 24th, 2001. I had almost finished putting together an initial prototype of the software we had discussed and even had a reservation to visit and show it to her, for the middle of the summer. A ticket that as it turns out I was never to need.

In July of 2001, Sherry was boating with her husband in Upstate New York when the boat caught a wave, ejected her, and then crashed into her. She was killed in this terrible accident, in what was not even her 50th year.

When I heard what had happened, I actually cried. Not because it was so sad (though frankly, it was). I cried because she had accomplished her dream, she outlasted that department chief who wanted her out, she was the only female neurosurgeon in the state where she practiced and had made quite a name for herself with some of the amazing surgeries she had performed, and the tender care she gave to her patients. It felt unfair to me that she had so little time to live the dream that she had so clearly and finally accomplished. Hadn't she earned the time?

It has been nearly four years since that day. And whatever else I learned from her, I am proud that she did not ever give up, and it is one of the reasons that I won't. Because I want her to be able be proud of me, no matter where she is now.

(for Sherry)

# Jose Antonio Morales on 10 Jun 2005 10:19 AM:

Once I've heard that the most wonderful thing a human can achieve is to save the life of other human. Sherry helped you to go on and gave you energy to make your life better. So she must be now enjoying from their achievements while on our planet.
I'm grateful to you and her. To you for sharing your experience and to her for motivating you to share. Probably more than one person (me) has one more reason to remember that life is beautiful and that exist great reasons to go on and on!

Best regards,

Jose Antonio

# Nancy Apple on 4 Jul 2005 12:38 PM:

Thank you for sharing your story about my sister Sherry, I found it by chance, and it made things a little easier today.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 4 Jul 2005 7:44 PM:

You are very welcome, Nancy. I probably should have done something sooner, it almost feels like I was being selfish, very un-Sherry-like in not sharing it.... The post was like setting the record straight.... By the way, I did just order a copy of 'Shoulda Lied About That' from your site, if you wanted to autograph it -- it is the order from Trigeminal Software. :-)

Lesley on 11 Nov 2007 2:42 PM:

Sherry also mentored me, during my one year of orthopaedic residency training in Louisiana.  I am now in a spine fellowship, and after thinking of Sherry so many times, I decided to google her and try to find her.  I can't believe she's gone.  I didn't even know.

It must be characteristic for those of us struggling to succeed, to meet and remember special people, even when we're out of touch for years.

Sherry left Louisiana the same time I did.  I'm glad to know she succeeded in life, in so many ways, after that, but it's going to take awhile before I can really beleive she is gone.  There just wasn't anyone I knew like her.

Michael S. Kaplan on 11 Nov 2007 3:00 PM:

I know how you feel, Lesley -- for a long time it wasn't real to me, either....

I have even talked myself into making it my fault -- like if my trip there to show her the prototype was that exact date/time she wouldn't have been able to be on the boat. But I know how she would feel about that line of thinking and I can almost hear her telling me what a waste of time it is to try to think that way.

I miss her, I truly do.

I'll bet she's be really proud of you, she used to love talking about the people she mentored (it was why I was so nervous about emailing her after I didn't end up going into medicine!).

Lora Roberts on 19 Oct 2008 1:35 PM:

I too, loved and admired Sherry.

I exclusively recruit neurosurgeons and worked with Sherry when she was looking for her first neurosurgery job.  The Chief of Neurosurgery/Program Chair  did not want a female neurosurgery resident in his program and despite a stacked deck, Sherry made it through the program. Knowing Sherry with her upfront personality this was quite an accomplishment.  The Chief's lackluster reference was a challenge and to counteract it I asked Sherry to give me all her personal references from patients and staff including one from an eight year old little girl who addressed her letter to Dr. Cherry Apple and thanked Sherry for saving her little brother and talking to her like a grown up.

Sherry and I became close during this time and I remember her calling me when her beloved dog died and when her husband Art had Legionaires disease.

I have worked with hundreds and hundreds of neurosurgeons, but Sherry was special and had a huge impact on me.  I was devasted when I heard that she died.

Thanks Michael for creating a website to share a memory of Sherry.

Lora Roberts


Michael S. Kaplan on 19 Oct 2008 10:02 PM:

Hi Lora --

Thanks for posting this, it is never a bad thing to get independent confirmation (it was just under a month ago that someone asked me if I had exaggerated the role that person played in trying to block her career due to negative feelings about a female neurosurgeon and I assured him that if anything I undersold what was happening!).

And thank you for helping Sherry to achieve her goals. It is great knowing that the good guys (and gals) get to win, sometimes, and I continue to be staggered by the mail I get from people who Sherry knew who found this page....

Nancy Key on 23 Oct 2008 1:42 PM:

Dr. Sherry Apple was a magnificant neurosurgeon as well as a person.  There is a story in readers digest in the October 1988 issue titled "A Strange Encounter" in which a truck driver was injured severly and was rushed to Georgia Baptist Med Center where Dr. Sherry Apple was on duty.  That Stranger had saved  Dr. Apple's life a year prior to this incident.  By a miracle she would be the neurosurgeon to get a miraculous chance to return that deed.  That story was not told much due to the fact that she was a woman trying to become a neurosurgeon.  The story in readers digest would also be a mark against her career at that time.  We were about to have the story be retold on a show called "Sightings" when we got the call that Sherry had died in a tragic accident.  The story is dear to my heart and so was Sherry  for saving that stranger who is still my husband today.....Thanks for Sherry's persistency to not give up when others tried to stop her from reaching her goals.    

Greg Little on 23 Oct 2008 7:04 PM:

I knew Sherry when she was a guitarist and just after she had quit the radio station and came to Memphis State 1975. I even taught her a medly of songs, all to the same tune and chords, which she used when she did some professional entertaining. She was a good guitarist and vocalist and could have had a professional career in it. We had a close relationship (dating) for some years and I was happy for her when she hooked up with a psychology professor, Art Yehle, whom she married. As such things go, I lost touch with her when I got married...and we followed our own paths. Even back then she was a kind, loving human being and I never knew a person who didn't like her. I was greatly saddened when I heard of her untimly death. She's missed by many.

Nancy Apple on 26 Jan 2009 10:17 PM:

I can't thank you enough MK for keeping me up to date on this thread. I miss my sister so much. Since she has passed away, I have also lost my Dad (4 months after) and then mom (almost 5 years after dad).

Loss is really hard, and I thank all of these friends of Sherry's who have posted here.


Nancy Apple

Michael Sipes on 8 Aug 2009 12:12 PM:

Dr Apple operated on my son at CAMC hospital in Charles West Va after a terrible 4 wheeler accident. Today he's walking and doing great. I will always be grateful to her. She was a remarkable human being and I will never forget her.

Kern Walden on 23 Apr 2011 7:05 AM:

I still have my Apple Bandage from my Neurosurgery(C-Spine Repair), a C4-C7 Cage, Plate and Screws inserted. I was in a MVA and sustained a Compound Burst Fracture in the town of Beckley, WV. They transferred me to CAMC and my family had me set up to be transferred to Northwestern in Chicago where I'm from. During my alone time and talks with Dr Apple she told me she was just as capable of doing the operation after listening to my concerns about what could possibly happen while moving me 1/2 way across the country. I didn't know of her capabilities, education, or background. But, I know people! I was a 22yo young man who was completely paralyzed yet 100% mentally stable and still retained Medical Power of Attorney. I chose her for my operation. I've made a 85% recovery. She saved my life! Physically and Mentally! We believed in each other! She was gone before I was able to Thank Her! Thank You!

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referenced by

2010/06/19 They got the $2000 from me, which is probably all they were looking for....

2010/03/21 My thoughts on the health care thing (given my life, my multiple sclerosis, and my iBot)

2008/05/04 Sparrows' tears? Perhaps. But never a teardrop on the fire...

2008/04/26 A song that reminds me of a roof (which isn't there, anymore) and a girl (who isn't, either)

2007/10/13 Not exactly a career

2006/04/06 Dandy of Johns Hopkins

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