“My grandparents and parents inspired me to help other people. They lived lives of service, my grandparents helping many Polish immigrants to survive the Depression and my parents carrying on in their tradition.”
Michael E. Capuano
“PRIVILEGED TO BE MINISTERING TO THE "BEST OF HUMANITY"...”
"What typifies torture–and binds the people I work with together–is the intentionality of their suffering; their betrayal by another human being. That's the most difficult. The torturer wants to hurt them. It may be their best friend, a neighbor, the government official they've been taught to trust, even a loved one," Dr. Lin Piwowarczyk intones quietly.
The soft-spoken psychiatrist and public health practitioner is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and 1995 co-founder of the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, which provides comprehensive health care with coordinated legal aid and social services for more than 300 refugees and survivors of torture and related trauma from 60 or more countries each year.
"It is the intentionality of torture against someone who is defenseless that is at the heart of its destructive effects. Talk of 'cruel and inhuman treatment' misses the fact that these actions are intended to cause profound physical, emotional and psychological suffering," Piwowarczyk explains.
"Take Gabriel, for instance. 'They killed my soul,' he told me when we first met. A student, he had gotten involved and been arrested. They only beat him the first time. The next, they beat and raped him. Somehow, he escaped to come here.
"He could barely sleep, had nightmares, avoided places where people gathered, ran in fear from the police. Sounds terrified him. He couldn't even read a book though reading had been his passion. Eventually, he came to accept it wasn't his fault; that what had happened was wrong and his life could be different."
"In a better world, we wouldn't exist," Piwowarczyk acknowledges of the Center and some 29 similar facilities nationwide trying to cope with the current flood of refugees from global strife, civil war, political oppression, sexual bondage, racial and religious persecution, or genocide.
"A couple of weeks ago, a new refugee said she had been referred by another person 'who had passed through here.' That's exactly what I hoped for," Piwowarczyk recounts. "We carry the hope of survival for them and can rejoice with them as they find their strengths. But we are just a way station on the road to recovery as they reconnect with themselves and get on with their lives, however long that may take."
"It's a privilege working with refugees, a ministry for me. My patients are very inspiring. In so many ways they exemplify the best of humanity," she says, adding, "They can and do recover, but they can never forget."
Movingly, Piwowarczyk recommends a life in medicine, declaring "Medicine continues to be a noble profession, with many opportunities to work with and have profound relationships with patients where healing can take place–physical, emotional, social and spiritual."
The New Bedford native was nominated by Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA-8) as a Local Legend of Medicine, who says she "sees an essential connection health and human rights" and that her clinical work "succeeds in no small part because she helps people regain their sense of dignity and worthy as human beings."
Completes residencies in Internal Medicine, Carney Hospital and Boston Medical Center, Boston
Completes fellowship in International Psychiatry, Indochinese Psychiatry Clinic, Brighton, MA
Earns Master of Public Health, Boston University
Founds Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, specializing in the needs of refugee survivors of torture and trauma
Academy of Medicine, Wroclaw, Poland