The gift of
two doctors, Ebony Howard knows all about spirit of the
original posting site at: http://www.dailynews.com/Stories/0,1413,200%7E20955%7E1072209,00.html
December 24, 2002 - Ebony Howard proudly
insisted that this
not be a "poor Ebony" story. Still, she knew she needed help.
junior basketball player at Antelope
Valley High of Lancaster,
ripped a ligament in her left knee before spring break last year,
to rob her of the one passion in her life.
"I tell myself
that if I keep playing and God
wants me to tear up my
knee, I'll tear up my knee. And if he wants it to get better, it will
better. And if God wants me to get help, someone will help me. I just
not to worry about it anymore," she said, handing her future to the
would answer her prayers.
I first met
Ebony Howard outside the Valencia High
gymnasium on a cold
night in early December. Her basketball coach, April Davenport, had
me about her player's injury, and I wanted to find out why after more
six months she had yet to have the surgery she needed to repair the
anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.
In March, Ebony
had landed awkwardly during a
pickup game with her teammates
at Antelope Valley High. Since then, she has had surgery scheduled
through her insurance carrier, Kaiser Permanente, only to be sent home
each time because of last-minute questions about consent.
time, after she already had changed
into a gown and climbed
onto a gurney, Howard was so frustrated she decided to forgo the
altogether and play basketball this season, hoping a brace would
It didn't. Her
knee ached as she lay in bed to
sleep each night because
she could afford only an inexpensive brace. The appropriate custom
costs several thousand dollars, which was well beyond her family's
I watched Ebony
play that night at Valencia. She
maintained a brave
front, regularly flashing her dazzling smile as if nothing were wrong.
It was obvious, though, that she was an incomplete player. Last year,
a sophomore, she was a slashing guard who started almost every game,
Davenport expected her to develop into a college-level player. This
her role has been reduced as she has struggled to regain her natural
She cheers from
the sidelines much of the time
but, when her guard is
down, seems to sink into deep thought as she cradles her face in her
A few weeks
after that night, at a holiday party,
I told my family about
Ebony. How she continued to play basketball with a cumbersome blue
she had nicknamed "Susie" and how the first doctor she had seen told
to "put some ice on it and come back in six weeks."
heard the story was incensed.
won't do anything for her," said my
Aunt Phyllis, who had
the same injury a few years ago. "You need a custom brace. She's going
to ruin her knee. Why didn't they do the surgery?"
time, her 19-year-old cousin brought
her to the appointment,
and they said she needed her guardian's consent," I explained. "So the
second time, her aunt, whom she's been living with while her mom is
at a drug-rehab center, took her to the appointment, and this time she
was told the girl needed her mother's consent.
"The aunt had
already signed a consent form, and
she asked whether they
could just fax it to her sister in the rehab facility in Santa Fe
but they said no."
My Uncle Norm
had been quiet through the entire
know you know someone over at SCOI
Orthopedic Institute in Van Nuys)?" Phyllis asked, turning to her
"Yeah, I was
thinking that the whole time you were
telling me the story,"
said Norm, who is a partner at company that manages outpatient
"Here's my cell
phone number, call me tomorrow and
I'll see what I can
do. I'm not promising anything, but Ill try."
I called Norm
the next day, and he told me there
was a good chance Dr.
Marc Friedman would perform the surgery free of charge. Norm's brother,
Steve, played tennis with an anesthesiologist, Dr. Jerry Mitchell, and
would try to get him on board, too.
a week later, Norm told me it was
all set, that Dr. Friedman
and Dr. Mitchell had offered to do the surgery, which normally would
at least $7,000.
"There's no tax
write-off, you just do it," said
Dr. Mitchell, the anesthesiologist
and medical director of the Center for Orthopedic Surgery Inc. "She's a
young girl, an athlete, and it's nice to be able to help a young person
like that. Believe it or not, doing stuff like this makes us feel good
about ourselves. It's why we went into this."
the orthopedic surgeon, had been the
for soccer at the 1984 Olympic Games as well as for the New York Knicks
and New York Jets. He had been a basketball player himself at
"This is for
the long-term health of her knee,"
Dr. Friedman said. "You
can damage the cartilage of the knee if you don't repair a torn
and that's more important in the long term. I know a lot of the doctors
at Kaiser. They are quality doctors, quality guys, but it's the system
that gets them.
"It seems like
this case just slipped through the
I went to the
doctor's office at Kaiser Permanente
in Panorama City,
where Ebony and her aunt, Sheila Lair-Williams, had tried to arrange
surgery. Officials there had no comment and said they couldn't release
her medical information.
The next day, I
decided to tell Ebony in person
two doctors were willing
to help her.
Valley girls' basketball team had
left school early that
day to avoid Friday-afternoon traffic on the way to their game at
I had called
Davenport the night before to tell
her world-class doctors
had offered to perform the surgery, and she was overjoyed.
And true to her
word, Davenport, who had paid for
Ebony's physical therapy
and took care of her the first few agonizing days after the injury, had
kept the secret the entire afternoon.
Chatsworth High gymnasium hardly seemed
the appropriate setting
for such a moment.
I saw Ebony
sitting with her teammates before the
junior varsity game,
but my eyes were still adjusting to the bright orange walls of the gym
that cast a strange glow over everything and everyone inside.
We sat alone
about 10 rows up in the bleachers. I
interviewed her for
a few minutes about nothing in particular, while the Chatsworth
tested the 30-second clock by ringing the buzzer over and over.
I asked how her
knee was feeling and how the team
had been doing. She
looked down at her knee and said it was fine, except that she couldn't
straighten it all the way.
Then I began to
tell her about the party, about
Norm and Steve and how
they both said, "I might know some doctors who can help."
She looked down
the entire time I spoke, this
17-year-old whom Davenport
once told me "had been let down too many times in her life.
"She needed a
break, she deserved one," Davenport
had told me.
whether Ebony had guessed my secret,
but she continued to
look down. I wondered whether she would believe me.
said, "what if I told you that these
two doctors want to
help you? That they offered to do your surgery for free?"
"Oh, my God,
are you serious?" she said, while her
hand tried to conceal
the bright smile that had crept across her face.
She rolled back
with a gentle laugh, almost
embarrassed by the magnitude
of the moment, and lifted her head to meet my eyes.
I asked what
she would say to the doctors?
"I don't know,"
Ebony said, "if I can say anything
is scheduled for early next