Alumna Says Ostomy Surgery Biased Some Medical Schools

Michelle Petri '75 received all A's at Harvard except for one B plus, graduating summa cum laude and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. So it came as no surprise to her that she was admitted to Harvard Medical School's class of 1980, along with the Yale and Johns Hopkins Medical Schools.

What did surprise and anger Petri is that she was rejected at other less prestigious med schools for what she says is discrimination, not because of age or race, but because of an operation she had two years ago.

One of a Million

Petri is an ostomate, one of a million Americans who has had their large intestine or bladder removed because of cancer or disease. An artificial opening is made through the abdomen for removal of body waste which is collected by a plastic appliance.

Ostomates pass unnoticed for the most part and they are not handicapped, according to Petri. Women, she said yesterday, can do everything but belly dance, and she mentioned Jerry Kramer of the Green Bay Packers as an example of the successful adaptation of an ostomate to professional sports.

Petri said that she scored in the 90th percentile and above on all four parts of the medical aptitude test (MCAT) and that a letter from her doctor accompanied her med school applications.

In the letter, her doctor, who is the president of the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, said that no recurrence of her disease was to be expected as the disease was non-cancerous and "she is at this time and will be in the future physically capable to practice medicine and be a medical student."

Turned Down

In spite of what she termed her "perfect academic record" and the accompanying letter from her doctor, Petri was turned down by the Cornell, Duke, Columbia and Tufts Med Schools.

She cited the interview with Tufts as an example of the alleged discrimination she received as an ostomate, noting that the first thing the interviewer said to her was "Oh, I know your name. You're the one with the ostomy."

Petri said that in spite of the med schools' misgivings about admitting an ostomate, "the more I protested that I was normal, the more they insinuated that I was not."

The main problem faced by ostomates is ignorance, Petri said. She said that even doctors know little about ostomies, since the operation has only been performed since the 1950's.

Ostomy Awareness Day

Boston Mayor Kevin H. White has declared tomorrow Ostomy Awareness Day in Boston, a move probably prompted by the fact that 110,000 ostomies are currently being performed each year, as compared to 90,000 masectomies.

Petri is chairman of the young adults group of the Ostomy Association of Boston. Her main purpose, she said, is to visit people of her own age, usually just after they have undergone an ostomy.

She talked about the frequent feeling of repulsion after surgery in addition to the problem of sexual adjustment.

"People are so afraid sometimes that they say they'd rather die...It's a huge change in body image."

Petri said ostomates are also unfairly discriminated against in health insurance and employment. Rather than seeing ostomy as the cure that it is, she said, they are afraid ostomates will get sick again.

The Ostomy Association of Boston is sponsoring an all-day educational seminar tomorrow for doctors and nurses in Newton, she said.