Years in foster care taught Dr. Claire Pomeroy that to understand pain is to work tirelessly towards changing the life of the most vulnerable among us.
Pomeroy is currently the President and the Chief Executive Officer of the Lasker Foundation in New York City.
She is responsible for overseeing the implementation of programs to advance the Foundation’s mission to “foster the prevention and treatment of disease and disability by honoring excellence in basic and clinical science, and through public education and research advocacy.” Dr. Pomeroy is an expert in infectious diseases and a professor of internal medicine and microbiology and immunology. She comes to the Foundation from her position as Dean of the University of California, Davis School of Medicine, CEO of the UC Davis Health System, and Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences at UC Davis. As a clinician, Dr. Pomeroy is a long-time advocate for patients with HIV/AIDS.
I interviewed Pomeroy in her UC Davis Sacramento office in late May 2013. My first impression of her was how gracious, poised and attractive she is. Petite, with a warm, friendly smile: “Where does her strength, her power of caring come from?” I thought.
Her extraordinary life journey began one night when as a frightened fourteen-year old girl she fled an abusive home and found herself on the streets not knowing what to do or where to go. With what must have been overwhelming feelings of fear, separation and loss Claire made her way into the foster system like millions of other children.
Staying at home would have been more frightening, with no chance for survival. Foster care was good to Claire, she was lucky, but this, of course, is not the case for every child and youth in the foster care system today.
The reasons that land children in the system and their experiences in it can cause a great deal of pain, but can also compel those individuals to be more resilient, driven by the will to overcome adversity, especially the will to understand and to care.
In her interview Claire shares with us some of the traumas she experienced when growing up without a family of her own, not to mention the hardships she lived through having to age out of the foster system when she was just seventeen.
What spurred her along was her dream of becoming a doctor, of being able to care for others, especially the extremely vulnerable and the neglected. It is no surprise when in the 80’s, as a young doctor, she chose to care for HIV/AIDS infected patients. At the time, there was no cure for the disease and everyone was terrified of becoming infected. As a result, it was customary for society at large and even for the families to abandon those patients where they died in isolation.
“I felt there was something special about the role of physicians and the way society places trust in them,” she says. “People go to doctors and tell them personal things about their life, the things they’re feeling and the things we hold dearest to ourselves.” Claire felt honored to be a physician.
Years later, Claire Pomeroy doesn’t treat patients anymore but she remembers, and as she holds her memories in her heart, she carries on, unwavering, ready to fight the next fight for a better world, ready to care, always.
Lin Weaver is a Media Journalist and a Radio and TV Producer. She is a Trustee of the UC Davis Foundation and a Member of the College of Biological Sciences Advisory Council.