Friends tragedy spurs woman to pursue trauma center

The death of her best friend still haunts Marti Sands-Weinstein.

A victim of physical and sexual abuse as a child, Sands-Weinstein's friend was frightened by some firemen who showed up at her door while she was taking a bath. They were only there because her pipes were leaking into the downstairs apartment, but their very presence caused her to panic.

Thinking she might be on drugs, the firemen called the police as well as paramedics, which just frightened her further.

She jumped out of a window.

"It was absolutely devastating because it was totally unnecessary," Sands-Weinstein said. "If they had only been trained in how to recognize somebody who is having a post-traumatic stress flashback," this could have been prevented. "They had no clue how to diagnose it."

Sands-Weinstein had been out of town when the tragedy occurred, and afterward, she "went through all kinds of emotions, anger, sadness and great grief."

Working as an epidemiologist in the biotech industry, she said she "decided to take some time off and do something meaningful with my time."

That something meaningful led her on a quest to open a trauma center here in the Bay Area. A neuroepidemiologist by training with a doctorate, Sands-Weinstein founded the Bay Area Center for the Treatment of Trauma Survivors in April 1999. But now a few steps must take place before it can open.

Right now, the only local residential facilities that specialize in post-traumatic stress disorder treatment are the Veterans Administration Hospitals, and they only serve veterans.

Building such a center from the ground up is not easy. In fact, many times along the way, people have told Sands-Weinstein that opening a hospital from scratch on her own is an impossible feat.

To the naysayers, Sands-Weinstein quotes Theodor Herzl, figuring that if he could set the foundations for the Jewish homeland, she can do the same for a hospital. "It would be an obsession were it not so rational from beginning to end," Herzl wrote.

Moses is another figure that Sands-Weinstein thinks of. When he reached the Red Sea with the Jews behind him, and Pharoah's army behind them, he just started walking.

"He has complete conviction that he has to walk through and that he will be successful on the other side," she said.

After obtaining nonprofit status, she sought help from the community she knows best — the Jewish one. She thought she would find sympathetic ears because the Jews have suffered collectively from trauma.

Sands-Weinstein, who lives in Redwood Shores, approached people she knew at Temple Beth Jacob of Redwood City and Congregation Beth Am of Los Altos Hills; she is a member of both. The congregations' respective rabbis, Nathaniel Ezray and Janet Marder, are on her advisory board, as are some other past and present board members of both synagogues. She also got the support of Reps. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) and Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), who are on her honorary advisory board.

Meanwhile, venture capitalists she met with told her that with an "A-idea," the next step was to assemble an "A-team" who could implement it, meaning "the best and brightest in the country who have done this, who have a track record, and who are running a center like this in the black."

Sands-Weinstein met with Dr. Richard J. Loewenstein, director of the Trauma Disorders Program at Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore about her hope to open a similar center in the Bay Area.

She approached Sheppard Pratt because it has been working with trauma survivors since 1992. The 20-bed facility was projected to be at 50 percent capacity in its first six months of operation; instead, it was at 100 percent capacity at the end of the first month and continually has a waiting list.

Loewenstein expressed interest in sharing his expertise. But then, her follow-up calls and e-mails to the hospital administration went unanswered.

So, she wrote a letter.

"In the Jewish tradition from which many of the Bay Area Center's board members come, there is a value called tikkun olam, or an individual's obligation to 'repair the world,'" she wrote.

Noting that in Loewenstein, Sheppard Pratt had the expertise from which the proposed Bay Area center could benefit, Sands-Weinstein wrote: "Ultimately, from a purely ethical viewpoint it can be argued that Sheppard Pratt Hospital System has a moral responsibility to share its unique and rare expertise with others in the nonprofit sector who are passionately dedicated to help trauma survivors end their suffering. It's simply the right thing to do."

After receiving Sands-Weinstein's letter, Sheppard Pratt administrators agreed that overseeing an affiliate in California might be feasible, provided they had somewhere to open it.

The California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco is reviewing the business plan and "exploring the feasibility of opening a regional center for inpatient and partial-day treatment," Sands-Weinstein said.

She is still in the midst of raising money but has assembled a long list of board members, volunteers and supporters of the future center. And one couple, Jonathan and Susan Golovin of Atherton, have pledged a lead grant.

Sands-Weinstein hopes that once open, the center will not only treat those who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, but conduct research, and provide education and public policy. Even many medical professionals do not know what to do if someone is experiencing such a flashback, Sands-Weinstein said.

Such efforts are all equally important, she believes.

For those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, she said, "their lives are disintegrating because they cannot function. Intrusive memories continue to bombard them and they can't pace them. They don't know how to differentiate what's real and what was the trauma. We have to educate people to be able to understand it and help."

For more information about the Bay Area Center for the Treatment of Trauma Survivors, e- mail Sands-Weinstein at [email protected], or visit the Web site at

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."