A QUIET REVOLUTIONARY Dr. Richard Aplenc ’84 • Distinguished Alumni Award
hen one of his patients was having a bad day, pediatric oncologist Dr. Richard Aplenc knew just the right treatment. He donned a dress and a wig and visited the patient disguised as Mrs. Doubtfire. As an associate professor of pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and an attending physician at the renowned Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Dr. Aplenc cares for young patients suffering from leukemia and lymphoma, and guides clinical research on the diseases. “The greatest reward of my work is seeing families and children handle difficult situations with grace and dignity,” Dr. Aplenc says. “The greatest challenge is working with families who struggle to provide emotional support for their children. The hospital can help, but we can’t create a home.” Dr. Aplenc’s perspective comes in part from his own experiences. “When I was in the eighth grade, I went through a very difficult time,” Dr. Aplenc says. “St. Andrew’s was a refuge for me during that rough patch. People in the school continued to invest in me. That investment I saw people making in me helped me set high expectations for myself, and made me realize I was valuable as a person.”
While his patients know him as a caring physician, Dr. Aplenc has developed skills to help him cope with the emotional toll caring for terribly sick children can take. “I focus on the patients’ stories without an agenda in mind. I play a role in their story, but it is ultimately their story, not mine. I’ve also been privileged to see people act in brave ways, and that is very sustaining for me. My goal is not to make a wall that everything bounces off of, but to be sensitive so it all comes through.” That sensitivity can be difficult when his work day might include a child pleading, “Dr. Richard, please don’t let me die,” or hearing a 19-year-old made wise beyond his years say, “I know my life had meaning because so many people cared for me.” But his commitment to challenging childhood cancer inspires Dr. Aplenc to continue. In a presentation to St. Andrew’s students, Dr. Aplenc urged them to find their own causes to champion, their own ways to become “quietly revolutionary.” “St. Andrew’s has a history of being revolutionary,” Dr. Aplenc said. “What is something that makes you angry and that you want to challenge in your own life? What statistic do you want to change? Choose your revolution. And be revolutionary in caring for yourself and for others.”
SOMETHING FISHY GOING ON One of Dr. Richard Aplenc’s favorite St. Andrew’s memories is of a senior prank that required stealth, engineering skills, and a trip to the local pet store. Over a weekend, Aplenc and other students built a fish tank using former Head of the Upper School Berkeley Latimer’s office window as its fourth wall. Dr. Latimer arrived on Monday to find his view of the campus obstructed by a well-engineered aquarium filled with fish. • “We were given the key to the school by faculty members who were in on the prank,” Dr. Aplenc recalls. “They didn’t tell us, ‘You need to be studying, not building a fish tank.’ The St. Andrew’s community was always supportive of creativity, even the kind of creativity that was a little ‘on the border.’ That kind of creativity is valuable in my job today.”
DISTINGUISHED ALUMNI OF THE YEAR AWARD The highest honor bestowed up on alumnus or alumna, the Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes alumni who have made extraordinary personal achievements, professional accomplishments, and significant contributions that benefit society. Recipients are individuals whose exemplary lives and activities reflect honor upon St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. One alumnus or alumna is recognized each year. 65
Published on May 22, 2014
Published on May 22, 2014
Archways is the flagship publication from St. Andrew's Episcopal School, an independent, coeducational, preparatory day school serving stude...