Monthly Archives: April 2006

Prof’s dismissal raises ire

Prof’s dismissal raises ire

By Michael Huang/Correspondent
Published: 4/28/06

Though many of her students give her rave reviews, Donna Toma – a part-time lecturer in the Psychology Department – will not be re-hired next semester.

To add insult to injury, Toma said she was not informed of the department’s decision until a student e-mailed her and said a class she had been slated to teach over the summer was no longer being offered.

Department Chair Barbra McCrady said decisions about re-hiring instructors to keep on board are made based on qualitative aspects.

“She is the most wonderful teacher I’ve ever had, she’ll help anyone,” said Kelle Slater, a student who has had Toma for three classes. “She’ll spend hours with you to help academically or personally, she’s a really great person.”

Toma said the department did not inform her of its decision not to re-hire her before notifying students that she would no longer teach a class she had been slated to.

“I had already received the roster for who was teaching Summer Sessions and what room I was teaching in,” she said. Toma later received a call from a student registered for one of her summer classes where she found out the department had sent out an e-mail saying she would no longer be teaching that class, she said.

Toma said she feels the decision about her may stem from an incident involving e-mails to students.

After the first exam in one of Toma’s classes had been administered, Psychology Department Vice-Chair Arnold Glass sent an e-mail to each student to ask how the class was going.

Some students responded to Glass’ initial e-mail by informing him that Toma was late to class.

Later, a complication from an incurable chronic disease from which Toma suffers put her in the hospital. She asked Glass’ office to send e-mails to her students notifying them that her next class would be cancelled, but the e-mail was never sent, she said.

Toma said she had never been more than five minutes late for a class except for that time. The disease, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, is one she said the department knew she suffers from.

Jennipher Samms, a University College senior, said Toma often stayed later than class to address students’ concerns.

“There are instances where there would be a line of 20 people waiting to talk to her after class,” said Samms. “[Toma] stayed and waited to speak with every single student, and she did it night after night so that they would understand. Most teachers would just tell you to come to office hours.”

According to McCrady, the department chair, the decision was fair.

“Each year we make a decision on an annual basis who we will be hiring,” she said.

When asked about the situation with Toma, McCrady said, “I do not make personnel decisions based on personal feelings. We are following all the rules.”

Although McCrady felt it inappropriate to reveal the specific criteria behind dismissing instructors, she said it includes a lot of qualitative aspects.

One way in which qualitative aspects can be measured are by the reports handed out to students at the end of each semester asking students to rate their professors on a scale of one through five, called student instructional rating surveys.

In spring of 2005, Toma taught two sections of Adolescent Development. Of the ratings given, 77 percent were a four or a five. In the other section, 73 percent of all ratings were a four or five. In a class taught spring of 2004, 81 percent of all ratings given to Toma were a four or five.

On the other hand, in fall 2005, students rated 51 percent of ratings given to Glass as a four or five, and in fall 2004, 69 percent of ratings were given a four or five.

According to, which rates professors according to easiness, helpfulness and clarity, Toma is given an overall quality of 3.5 out of 5, and a 3.6 in helpfulness.

Toma has been a part-time lecturer for the undergraduate Psychology Department for more than 6 years, she said.

Douglass College’s Mabel Smith Society has awarded Toma several times for her work with students. She has also won The “Apple-Pie” Award from the Athletic Department for her work with student athletes. She participated in a Jeopardy-style trivia game that pitted students against teachers to raise money and awareness on National AIDS Day and has served as an adviser and mentor for students working on honors theses and internships.

Amy Bahruth, the American Association of University Professor’s bargainer for part-time lecturers, said that a part-time lecturer who works six years or six consecutive semester is entitled to a written explanation of the non-hire decision.

Click Here For The Original Article Online


Trial date set for wrongful raid

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Trial date set for wrongful raid

By Cynthia Kaneshiro -The Garden Island
Posted: Wednesday, Apr 12, 2006 – 04:03:55 am HST

A jury-trial date is set in the home-invasion case involving Sharon and William McCulley of ‘Oma’o and officers of the Kaua’i Police Department.

April 17 is the date for the federal court case, said John Rapp, an attorney for the McCulleys, on Monday.

He indicated that there is always the possibility of a settlement before the case goes to trial.

David Minkin, special counsel for Kaua’i County, said that, at this point in time, it is way too early to make a determination about a settlement.

There is initial discovery to be done, said Minkin.

The McCulleys allege that police invaded their home last year without a warrant while they were looking for a box of marijuana they later found at a nearby home. The couple claims that the raid left them with medical expenses and emotional distress.

They were babysitting their two grandchildren when police entered their home unannounced in March 2005.

The police were following a box of marijuana that was mailed from California to the Koloa post office. A transmitter was put into the box, and the police lost track of the box and went into the couple’s home.

According to court records, neighbors who saw what happened could be interviewed to give their accounts of what they saw. The police officers involved in the incident could also be interviewed.

Doctors could also be interviewed to determine the extent of the couple’s medical bills, treatment and care, along with what kinds of emotional suffering they have as a result of the raid.

Court papers also show that information will be needed about the transmitter that was put in the box.

Additionally, the three who were arrested in relation to the marijuana box could also be interviewed, according to court records.

In court papers, William Mc-Culley said police came in yelling, “get down, get down.” He pointed out in court papers that he did not have time to comply with the order before he was thrown to the floor from his wheelchair.

Court records reveal that he broke his left foot while on the job in 2001. The injury led to a nervous system disorder called reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a chronic-pain condition, and an electrical device was implanted in his spinal cord to alleviate pain.

The device went haywire and he was “electrocuted” when he was thrown down, according to court records.

“I was flopping on the ground,” he said in court papers.

Court records show that the raid aggravated his condition, for which there is no cure.

Both McCulleys claimed that they have post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the raid.

The incident caused them to distrust the police in general, and left them jumpy, they said.

# Cynthia Kaneshiro, staff writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or

Click Here For Original Article Online


Jury awards $4.2 million to teacher after tragic fall

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Jury awards $4.2 million to teacher after tragic fall

Thursday, April 13, 2006
Bruce Cadwallader

With both arms curling inward from a rare nerve reaction to a broken arm she suffered in an icy fall three years ago, teacher Tessa Zanke can’t bear the pain of hugging her students.

She can’t hold a pencil or drive, and the burning pain will never go away, her attorney said yesterday.

For future pain and suffering and to cover medical costs, a Franklin County Common Pleas jury awarded the special-education teacher $4.2 million on Tuesday. It is one of the largest jury awards for a premises-liability case here, behind a 1999 jury award of $5.8 million to a 6-year-old girl who suffered permanent brain damage as a result of injuries at a local Kmart.

The civil trial, heard by Judge Charles A. Schneider, lasted three weeks.

Zanke is a teacher in Lexington, Ky., and now has help from a teacher’s aide. But district administrators say that because they cannot afford an aide for next year, they won’t renew Zanke’s contract.

Even with the help of an aide, “I left my classroom four or five times a day to cry in the rest room and ask God for relief from the pain,” Zanke, 27, said yesterday.

“My life just changed right before my eyes. Before that happened, I was very active and was very much involved in volunteer work.”

At the time of the fall, Zanke was just out of college and pursuing her childhood dream of teaching elementary students. She was unaware that residents were complaining to the management about ice at the Spring Creek Apartments near Rt. 161 and Cleveland Avenue.

Contractors at the 19-building complex had removed rain gutters on many of the buildings in order to replace siding. The work was to be completed by December 2002, but weather and costs pushed the project into the next year.

Ice from the pooling water accumulated on the walks and stairs around her building. On March 3, 2003, Zanke fell on a patch that was 4 feet wide and 3 inches thick.

The Village Green Management Co. knew of the dangers and had issued work orders to eliminate the ice, said James Arnold, Zanke’s attorney.

“One woman fell down 12 steps,” he said. “A week before Tessa fell, another woman went into the management office and told them this “was an accident waiting to happen.”

Zanke sued the management company and the apartment owners, CK Spring Creek Limited Liability Corp., for negligence.

Doctors who testified in the trial said Zanke’s right arm was broken and didn’t heal correctly. She developed a disorder known as reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which results when a signal is sent to the brain to send more blood to an injured area. Her condition has spread to her left arm, causing a continuous burning sensation and hypersensitivity.

“It could happen to me or you,” Arnold said. “She’ll ultimately end up with two nonfunctioning arms.”

Michael Valentine and Al Mockhtari, attorneys for the defendants, argued that the ice was a natural accumulation for which the two companies could not be held responsible.

Arnold argued that the accident was preventable.

Valentine and Mockhtari said they will appeal the verdict. Valentine declined to comment yesterday.

Zanke was offered $60,000 in a pretrial settlement, Arnold said.

“I’ve had larger verdicts, but it’s a pretty big verdict by Franklin County standards,” Arnold said. “These companies operate nationwide with about 25,000 units, and they are heavily insured.”

He said Zanke will have to wait at least 18 months for the appeal to collect any of the money.

“My greatest fear is that I won’t be able to work with children again,” Zanke said. “I have some decisions to make.”

Click Here For Original Article Online


Despite disease, hope is not lost

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Despite disease, hope is not lost

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Declaring “I’d be a guinea pig for anything,” Karen Garrett, a single mother of four, hopes against hope for the unexpected: A cash windfall that would enable her to go to Germany for treatment of an illness that is systematically wrecking her life.

The West Deptford woman has RSD (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy), a chronic neurological disease with across-the-board symptoms that may include severe burning pain, tissue swelling and extreme sensitivity to touch. She is not alone. Many dozens of Gloucester County residents are RSD sufferers, and, like Karen, many also yearn to make the trip to Germany, where ketamine treatment is available.

But it is expensive. Several county residents have paid about $50,000 for revolutionary treatment abroad with various measures of success. At least one Delaware Valley physician is specializing in outpatient treatment at Hahnemann, but his caseload is heavy, his waiting list lengthy. RSD is a mysterious disease with no clear-cut triggers. It is as perplexing as it is painful.

“I have no good days, especially when it rains,” says Karen, who is 45. “I hate laying on the couch. Sometimes I get so depressed. I don’t have a life anymore.”

Diagnosed with RSD eight years ago, Karen says her pain has been concentrated on her right side but now seems to be affecting her left side as well. Her lower back, legs, arms and neck cause her such excruciating pain there are many nights she is unable to sleep. The endless pain is evident in her voice; the slightest movement may cause her to cry out.

Unable to work (she was at Checkpoint Systems for five years), the life-long West Deptford resident and 1979 West Deptford High grad currently lives on $480 in monthly welfare and a similar amount in food stamps. She is hopeful of going on Social Security Disability.

Compounding her battle against RSD, Karen was injured in May 2004 when she was involved in a head-on collision near Green-Fields Swim Club.

“When it rains, it pours,” she says.

She is divorced. All four of her children – Alton “A.J.,” 19, a freshman at Gloucester County College; Laurie, 17, a high school junior; Bryan, 9; and Carol Ann, 8 – live at home.

Karen was the beneficiary in the final Dawn Lewis Memorial Indoor Mini-Golf Tournament in 2005. The highly successful event was held to aid a West Deptford resident in need, raising over $100,000 in 10 years, and produced about $17,000 to start a Karen Garrett fund. She said she hasn’t touched the money because she hopes it one day will help her to get to Germany, where, at least, she feels she will have some hope.

“It’s all so sad and frustrating,” says Jill Love, a sympathetic golf committee member who knows Karen. “She struggles daily with the disease, which gets worse as the days go by.”

Karen is comforted by support she has received from the community, topped by the golf tournament, noting “West Deptford has been very good to my family.”

But her daily battle to get off her couch, return to work and function somewhat normally, continues.

“I need an advocate,” Karen says.

Click Here For Original Article Online


Journey into the ‘burning hell’ of RSD

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Inside Bay Area, originally uploaded by rsdscrpsnews.

Journey into the ‘burning hell’ of RSD

Article Last Updated: 04/03/2006 9:42 AM PDT

By Barry Caine, STAFF WRITER

LAURA SORAVILLA walks gingerly up the stairs to the second-floor bedroom she and her husband Andy converted to a studio apartment.

The room is equipped with a voice-activated phone system, a small refrigerator, a TV and DVD player, furniture, pillows and a couple of remotes.

“I used to be able to do my remotes with my toes, but now my feet are out of commission,” Soravilla says.

A resident of San Ramon, the former dancer and legal secretary suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), a debilitating nerve-related syndrome that keeps people in constant pain.

Unless it is treated early enough, there is no cure for RSD, which was first identified during the Civil War but still befuddles the medical community.

Also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome Type 2 (CRPS2), the syndrome — it is not a disease — is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms vary, and the pain is difficult todescribe.

Nobody knows for certain how many have it, says Dr. Aimee Chagnon, a Mill Valley neurologist, but she estimates the number in America is “probably in the range of several hundred thousand.”

RSD strikes more women than men. It can hit anyone from young children to the elderly. The typical patient is a female in her 20s to 40s.

Soravilla, 58, has had it in her hands for 10 years. “Now it’s spreading to my legs,” she says.

Her eyes well up, but the tears don’t fall.

“You learn to live with what you have and make the most of it,” she says.

At its worst, the pain is “burning hell,” she says. “It’s horrible. You can’t concentrate. You can’t do anything. You have to go into a dark room because even light affects you.”

Others have described the pain as feeling like drills going through their bones; or as if their hand is being dipped in a vat of acid and they can’t pull it out.

Some have the sensation of bugs crawling beneath their skin. Often, there’s a constant deep ache, or the sensation of a lance going through a body part.

When the pain is that intense, “you can’t have anybody touch you,” Soravilla says. “You take your meds and wait till it goes down. It’s a constant up and down, up and down.”

No one knows exactly what triggers RSD, but often it strikes someone who has suffered a minor injury such as a twisted ankle or fall. Car accidents, minor surgeries and bumped limbs can also lead to RSD.

If you didn’t know she had RSD you would think Soravilla looks fine. That’s a common problem for those with the syndrome. Other people don’t believe there’s anything wrong with them. So they are often treated as malingerers; as if their problem is imagined.

To ease her discomfort, Soravilla dresses in soft, loose-fitting clothes, such as the velour sweatsuit she has on today. She and her husband are on their way to an RSD support group meeting at Body Lines Day Spa in San Ramon.

Like Soravilla, other attendees wear sweats. One wears thick gloves. A couple rest their feet on pillows. All wear tennis shoes or other comfortable footwear.

It’s like a room filled with delicate crystal. Most move carefully.

“I used to be a people person,” says Franci, one of many who drove to the meeting from Castro Valley. Everyone but Soravilla, who started the group with another member, asked that their last names not be used.

“In my head, if somebody hits this leg I will die,” Franci says, referring to her right leg. “I can’t do anything for any length of time. My fear is my leg won’t work if someone stops (his car) in front of me.”

Her RSD started after a botched hysterectomy. Before that she was a successful businesswoman. Since then, she has lost her house, her savings, “everything,” she says. “I lost my marriage, my kids, because they thought I was crazy. They put me in a psych ward.”

Misdiagnoses are not unusual, given the unfamiliarity many medical people have with RSD and pain treatment in general.

Pain is the most common reason people give for seeking medical care in this country. Costs total $120 billion. Yet it is not focused on in the education of U.S. doctors, Chagnon says.

Most in the support group have been treated with some combination of pain medicine, antidepressants, antipsychotics, antiseizure medication, muscle relaxants, compounded topicals for skin, oral anesthetics and injectable anti-inflammatories. Some have tried biofeedback and meditation.

Recently, Franci went to an accupuncturist. It helped. “I can climb stairs, which I hadn’t been able to do for 51/2 years,” she says.

She and other members exchange information and give updates on what’s working and what’s not with their bodies, families, doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and bureaucracies, such as the Workman’s Compensation system.

Emily, who co-founded the group with Franci, says antipsychotics have helped her, and her pain is in remission. Her RSD seemed to start after her arm got sore from her dog pulling too hard on its leash.

Donna feels pain from RSD in her face and mouth. It is so severe that she can’t go outside without wearing a bubble-like plastic mask.

Dave’s began after he started using a computer. He is the one wearing gloves. “When I walk through a room it feels like a sunburn,” he says.

He sleeps in a chair at night because he can’t lie flat on a bed. His wife doesn’t like the arrangement. “My wife is afraid to touch me so she doesn’t,” he says.

Dave admits he’s tired of the pain and the accompanying losses — of status with his family, of income and of normalcy.

It’s common for people with RSD to consider suicide.

Chronic-pain patients are eight to 10 times more likely to commit suicide than the average, Chagnon says. The neurologist specializes in treating people with RSD, nerve pain, pain from nerve injuries, Multiple Sclerosis and stroke, at Bay Area Pain Medical Associates in Mill Valley.

In addition to getting worse, RSD pain often changes, she says. Also, the pain can spread, although the exact mechanism behind it is not understood.

“It’s postulated that even though we can’t detect it, somewhere nerves are damaged,” Chagnon says.

Over time, the wiring in the central nervous system — the brain and spinal cord — changes.

“The mechanisms that we use to lay down new memories and new learning in our brain are actually used in the spinal cord to lay down pain memories,” Chagnon says.

“Eventually, no matter what we do to the original area of injury, it won’t matter. The central nervous system is rewiring itself to say this is the new normal state of affairs. It is learning to be in pain.”

She says the most important thing is treating RSD in time, ideally within three to six months of exhibiting symptoms, such as swelling and temperature change in the area.

If a patient is given nerve blocks early on to “get them out of pain and get them moving, we really have a good shot at putting them into what’s now termed ‘a remission,’ ” Chagnon says. “Because we understand that that person always will be at risk for it coming back. But overall, the person’s chances are quite excellent for it never coming back.”

For someone who has had RSD for a year or more, the prognosis for a cure is poor, although pain specialists have gotten better at managing the symptoms.

When Chagnon treats RSD patients, one of the things she suggests is pet therapy. Data has shown that having pets helps reduce pain, blood sugar and blood pressure, and improves depression and sociability.

Soravilla is a believer. She calls Cujo, a long-haired Chihuahua, her therapy dog. “Whenever I’m hurting real bad or crying, he will come up and kiss my cheek and put his head on my shoulder,” she says.

“Lots of times it’s really hard. You don’t show it. You put on a happy face. What people don’t see is you just cry and cry because it hurts so bad.”

There are good days, though. And on those days, “You’re ecstatic.”

On those days, Soravilla and her husband often visit with their granddaughter Andrea, 4. They go outside, sit, and look at birds and flowers.

She shows off a poster-size picture of Andrea wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “I (heart) someone with RSD.” Her smile fills the room.

For information on RSD, visit the National Institute of Health Web site at and click on “reflex synthetic dystrophy.”

For information on the RSD support group,

e-mail Laura Soravilla at

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$135,000 settles Yakima School District lawsuit

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YakimaHerald, originally uploaded by rsdscrpsnews.

$135,000 settles Yakima School District lawsuit


A lawsuit accusing the Yakima School District of negligence for a second-grader’s controversial playground injury nearly nine years ago has been settled for $135,000.

The settlement averted a civil trial that was scheduled to begin Monday in Yakima County Superior Court. It was reached Feb. 23 as a result of mediation, according to court records.

The case revolved around an incident that occurred Nov. 12, 1997, at Whitney Elementary School. The lawsuit was filed in September 2003.

The girl, identified by the initials B.V., told school officials she was attacked during recess by two boys, also second-graders, who repeatedly kicked her right leg.

Lawyers for the girl accused the school district of negligence, saying no playground monitors were in the tetherball area when the attack occurred.

They said the girl, who is now 16, was later diagnosed with a condition called reflex neurovascular dystrophy and has needed years of treatment, including surgery and physical therapy.

In addition, they said she was too afraid to go to school after the attack, continuing her education via correspondence courses.

The school district countered that nobody ever witnessed the alleged attack — which the girl said happened fast — even though there were numerous children around at the time.

Lawyers for the district also claimed there was no evidence playground supervisors were derelict in their duties that day, and that monitors cannot be everywhere at the same time.

Moreover, they also argued the school district was not liable because school officials were unaware of any impending trouble and that the boys who allegedly attacked the girl did not pose disciplinary problems.

Under the terms of the settlement, B.V. will receive just under $60,000 of the $135,000 settlement. Her parents, Edgar and Vicki Vertrees, get $3,500.

The girl’s Yakima attorneys, Blaine Tamaki and Bryan Smith, received $45,000 in attorneys fees. The Tamaki law firm also was reimbursed $20,824.76 in costs.

The balance of the settlement went to other costs, including roughly $4,500 in reimbursement to the state Department of Social and Health Services, which covered the girl’s medical bills.

n Chris Bristol can be reached at 577-7748 or at

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ContraCostaTimes, originally uploaded by rsdscrpsnews.


Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy support

Second and fourth Wednesdays monthly

11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Bodylines Day Spa
2330 San Ramon Valley Blvd.
San Ramon.