One year ago Sunday, Mila Rainof MED ’08 was struck by a car as she crossed the busy intersection of York Street and South Frontage Road.
Her death a day later, along with the death of 11-year-old Gabrielle Alexis Lee in a hit-and-run last June, cast a shadow over pedestrian safety on New Haven’s streets, leading to a public push to reduce traffic accident injuries across the city. While Rainof’s friends and family still mourn her death, they said they have been consoled by city and community efforts to improve traffic safety over the past year.
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“New Haven’s streets, though still hazardous, are continuing to be made safer, thanks to a number of people in the medical community who got involved in traffic safety initiatives after Mila’s death,” said Karen Jubanyik, Rainof’s former professor.
Dr. Gregory Larkin, professor of surgery in emergency medicine, said he still vividly remembers the shock of learning that one of his students had been involved in an accident. According to police reports from the accident, Rainof had been crossing the street early in the morning of April 19, 2008, when she was struck by an oncoming sports car accelerating to enter the freeway on-ramp.
“On Friday night, I was her mentor,” said Larkin, who described Rainof as a brilliant student who stood apart from the rest of her class. “By Saturday morning, she was my patient.”
Jubanyik, an assistant professor of surgery in emergency medicine, said she first met Rainof while she was a third-year student completing an emergency medicine clerkship at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The night before the fatal accident, Jubanyik said, she remembered seeing Rainof perfecting her ultrasound skills during a rotation in the Yale-New Haven Emergency Department.
“She brought individual care and kindness to each interaction,” Jubanyik recalled. “Mila’s name means compassion, and she truly lived up to it.”
Only weeks from graduation, the medical student was set to begin her residency in California at Alameda County Medical Center’s Highland General Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine — one of the nation’s most competitive programs.
“She had a contagious enthusiasm for taking care of patients in crisis,” Jubanyik said. “I think of her often and know that she lives on if we take lessons we learned from her and bring it to our daily challenges.”
A month after the accident, local residents united with officials and individual organizations to form the New Haven Safe Streets Coalition, meant to raise community awareness of traffic safety issues. Last October, the city launched the Street Smarts Campaign, which included an initiative funded by the Yale-New Haven Hospital to upgrade 12 intersections around Yale’s medical district, and shortly after, the city installed new crosswalks and pedestrian signposts in the area.
The New Haven Police Department also arranged for two police units to patrol busy intersections throughout the city to slow down traffic.
Despite the array of initiatives to improve the safety of city streets, officials from the Safe Streets Coalition said they still see room for improvement and hope to avoid at all costs another unnecessary traffic fatality. Last week, Yale, along with the city’s Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking, launched the Smart Street Web site to demonstrate how pedestrians, cyclists and drivers should act on city streets.
Still, New Haven’s director of parking, Mike Piscitelli, after noting a number of steps the city has taken to improve street safety, said caution starts with the individual: “Street smarts call for your attentiveness at all times; your patience with others; and your willingness to share the road,” he wrote in an e-mail message.
Last year in New Haven, 13 percent of motor-vehicle crashes involved pedestrians — a rate higher than the state’s average of about 9 percent, according to statistics from the Yale School of Medicine trauma unit.
On a discussion board of the 697-member Facebook group dedicated to Rainof’s memory, younger sister Rebecca listed fond anecdotes from happier days. “Mila’s first sentence, spoken at an astoundingly early age, was ‘Get me out of here!’ ” she wrote. “She yelled it from her crib.”
Her sister also wrote how she remembered how the medical student’s favorite means of insult was to call people single-celled organisms, recalling an incident in which Rainof labeled a classmate a “euglena.”
Tina Damarjian shared a memory of a time when her late classmate, after overhearing her calls to order a taxi for her visiting parents, volunteered not only to drive Damarjian’s family from the airport but also to pick out flowers for Damarjian’s parents. The two women barely knew each other at the time, she said.
A memorial scholarship and award fund for graduates of the medical school entering emergency medicine is currently being established at Yale School of Medicine in memory of Mila Rainof.
Juybanik said the most lasting memory of Rainof, though, will be her sincere relationships at the medical school.
“Greetings were always with a hug and a smile,” the professor recalled. “Meeting with Mila was the highlight of any day.”