Vote like our future depends on it – it very well might

photo of Alona

Today I was surprised to see an opinion piece, a letter to the editor, written by my niece, published in The Arizona Daily Star, the Tucson newspaper. Alona Sukhina came to our family when she was a very young girl, when her older sister married my nephew, Robert. Their entire family, including Alona’s parents, are now fully part of our family. Any significant holiday without their presence would seem empty. We love her, her sister and her parents.

Alona at our 2004 Xmas gathering, showing off a gift.

I’ve watched her pretty much her whole life, seen her remarkable curiosity and incredible hard work as she excelled at school. I watched her fall in love and get married to a wonderful young man who just adores her. Alona and her husband, along with her cousins, give me tremendous hope for our future. I think you will enjoy Alona’s story as she explains her story of immigration and lessons she’s learned.  Today Alona is completing her residency in Phoenix. When finished she plans to to practice general pediatrics in Tucson. I can’t explain how immensely proud of her I am.  Her piece is below or you can read it at the newspaper’s website here:

I am a refugee who grew up in Tucson. I am an American, a millennial and a pediatrician. My family immigrated to the US from the Soviet Union in 1993, when I was 2 years old. Now considered a success story, my family would have likely failed without the supportive immigration policies of that time.

The programs in place then were made possible by voters in the late 20th century. Yet today, I see the threat and near extinction of the American dream for immigrants like myself because of people who might think their vote doesn’t count. Let me tell you why it does.

Thanks to the International Rescue Committee (IRC), my parents got decent jobs through a program designed to help refugees establish themselves with a stable income. We had access to doctors for preventative care thanks to Medicaid. That meant my parents could scrape together funds to get me a small telescope after expressing interest in becoming an astronaut.

Years later, I was gifted a microscope as my interest in biology grew. These gifts on a frugal lifestyle were explained by my mother this way: “Feeding your curiosity and mind was as important as buying food. When we saved enough money, the choice was simple.”

In high school, I was drawn to medicine as a way to provide the same support to others who ensured my family’s success. In medical school at the University of Arizona, I envisioned days as a pediatrician focused on preventing infections or cancer, scrutinizing growth charts, and screening, diagnosing, and managing all spectra of disease.

As a medical resident up in Phoenix, reality widened my gaze. I recently treated a teenager suffering from a panic attack because her parents were just deported. Recent restrictions led to their immigration applications being rejected.

I cared for a mother from Guatemala who struggled to find work due to lack of child care because rising naturalization fees prevented her husband from being here to help. Many legal immigrants visiting my clinic decline aid fearing being labeled a burden on the state and getting deported.

IRC’s funding is at risk, putting the benefits my family once relied on under threat. Medicaid’s enrollment is rising with COVID, despite state budget crises leading to cuts. Now with looming changes to the Supreme Court, the threats to the Affordable Care Act could leave millions of Americans without care.

People voting for policymakers elected from decades past who believed in the potential and promise of immigrants like me made it possible for my family to thrive. Individuals voting in 1960 elected people who wrote the 1965 Social Security Act, making it possible for my parents to get me a microscope instead of having to pay for preventative care. Votes cast in 1971 elected a senator who sponsored the 1977 Food Stamp Act, giving us access to a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. Votes cast in 1978 elected legislators who passed the 1980 Refugee Act, providing the legal basis for my family’s immigration.

And because of all those votes and all of those programs, I will be a physician Arizonans can rely on to care for their children.

So if you question for one minute whether your vote matters, remember there are those who cannot vote who depend on you exercising your civil right. Those who are marginalized, those on the fringes of society, those too young to fill out their ballot, depend on our votes to stay healthy, educated and able to succeed.

I vote because my patients and community can’t afford for me not to. I hope you will join me.

Will the real Steve Larsen please stand?

three faces of Steve LarsenEarlier this week, on April 23, I got an email from Steve Larsen in Utah, saying “My momma went to heaven on Sunday. I thought you might like to read about her.”  He gave me a link to her obituary. She was a remarkable woman, and I’ve included the link to her obit at the end of the newsletter.

Steve’s email got me to thinking: you might enjoy hearing about this “Steve Larsen,” the one who lives in Utah, and why he was writing to me.  Steve is an interesting man and this is a fun story.

Over twenty-five years ago when the Internet was heating up and tools for constructing web sites were reaching the hands of barely-competent techies, there was a rush to grab and hold website URL’s in your own name.  Companies rushed to get URLs like “www.ford.com.” Individuals rushed to get their own names, something like www.pennjillette.com – if you happened to be Penn Gillette, for example, the magician, actor, author and television personality. So, of course, I had to have www.stevelarsen.com.  By the time I tried to register it, somebody else already had, and I settled for www.stevelarsen.net, the URL I use to this day.  I knew nothing of this other “Steve Larsen” and had no way to contact him to see if I could somehow weasel the more valuable .com URL away from him.

Years went by and I became satisfied with my .net domain name as the .net suffix eventually gained nearly the legitimacy of .com URLs.  Then in 2008-2009, I became aware of the professional road racer and triathlon champion, Steve Larsen.  Now here was more confusion. Not only did I have to deal with Utah-based Steve Larsen, here was another interloping “Steve Larsen” and this one was a professional athlete and genuine celebrity at that.  When Steve Larsen the famous bicycle racer died tragically at 39 years of age, people began showing up at my website, wanting to leave condolences and messages to his family.  This confusion caused a good deal of stress, and I began to feel a need to address it.

Announcement that 39 year old Steve Larsen, the champion bicycle rider, had tragically passed away.

This was at a point in my career when I was no longer hiding behind large companies like AT&T and IBM but was striking out on my own, My website was becoming important to me. At the same time, the owner of www.stevelarsen.com had started a consulting business. His website had a “contact me” form, so I finally opened up a dialog with him.  This Utah-based Steve Larsen had no interest in selling his .com domain name but said he’d see if he could help people mistakenly going to his website when looking for me.  A week or two later, he sent me an email, saying he thought he had a fix and asked me to take a look.  Going to www.stevelarsen.com, I now saw his consulting website as before, but this time, halfway down the page, he’d put in a largish font: “IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THE REAL STEVE LARSEN, CLICK HERE” with a link to my website.

It’s been twenty years since and his website has gone through a host of iterations but all of them have had some prominent link to my website, right near the top.  With deeds counting more than words, Utah-based Steve Larsen cemented his place in my head as one of the more generous and gracious people on the planet.  I’m not sure how it happened next, but an email relationship formed.  Soon we were on his family’s Christmas card list, and then one day, I opened a beautiful card to see we’d been invited to his daughter’s wedding.  While never meeting Utah Steve Larsen or his family, I felt I owed him a good deal and a card of Congratulations with a nice check seemed appropriate.   A month or two later, we received a nicely written thank you card. Maggie and I felt we understood Utah Steve Larsen’s family better and felt honored to connect with them.  Roughly a year later we got another wedding invitation from another of Steve Larsen’s daughters and it slowly dawned on us.  Steve Larsen lived in Utah.  Steve Larsen might be… you guessed it …. a Mormon.  I asked Maggie, “How many weddings do you think we’ve signed ourselves up for?” Maggie and I started to giggle and then it escalated to full-on laughter.  We couldn’t imagine what these children of Utah Steve Larsen thought about the identities of these disembodied Larsen’s in Phoenix, Arizona, but once on the list, you weren’t getting off.

In the ensuing years, we’ve gotten to know Utah Steve Larsen and his family through periodic emails and Christmas newsletters.  We know Steve loves to fish and is famous for his smoked trout.  We’ve read and marveled at their family’s ice fishing trips and loved seeing photographs of their great-looking children as they grew.  Knowing we lived in Phoenix, Steve was aware there was a new Mormon Temple being built not far from us, just off 59th Avenue in Glendale, AZ.  He arranged VIP tour tickets for us.  We’d never seen anything like it. It was beautiful with amazing architecture and the people were super nice. We loved seeing it.

The story mostly ends there, except that a couple of years ago, Steve wrote he was planning to visit Phoenix for business and could we meet?  Maggie and I finally met Utah Steve Larsen face-to-face and found him to be as tall as I am short.  He’s a wonderfully warm human being and it was so much fun to share stories of our families, careers, and everything else.  I find connecting with other human beings one of the most meaningful parts of my life and that some of these chance meetings and odd connections have been the most rewarding.

Here is the link to the obituary of my friend, Steve Larsen’s, mother. A quite amazing woman.

Here is a link to www.stevelarsen.com, where you will find the most current iteration of Utah Steve Larsen’s notice on how to reach “the other, Steve Larsen.”  It is reproduced below:

Front page of Utah Steve Larsen’s .com website.

Finding a Daughter on 23andMe – the rest of the story


My very first newsletter (9 newsletters ago) was the story of finding a daughter I did not know about. She found me using 23andMe, reached out and made contact. If you missed that newsletter, you should read it. You will find it here. No doubt several of you have imagined what would have happened if this had occurred in your family, no?

Response to this story from family and friends has been quite heart warming. Some responses contained questions. This newsletter answers some of those questions and provides a bit more background.

Why did you do 23andMe to begin with? In April of 2016 I was scheduled for Open Heart Surgery (OHS) at Mayo Hospital in Phoenix. As part of my preparation and desire to leave no stone un-turned in my search for things which could impact the outcome of my surgery, I joined 23andMe and had my DNA tested. Although a fascinating report on the history of my ancestors full of curious bits such as: “You can smell asparagus in urine,” and; “your belly-button is an ‘inny’ and your second toe is longer than your big toe;” it revealed no relevant tidbits about my heart situation and nothing to help in my upcoming surgery. 23andMe did ask if I wished to make my DNA results public. Remembering my friend Ester Dyson’s eloquent articulation of the value of making one’s results public years before, I checked the box to make my results known. Not finding the health data I’d hoped for, I soon forgot about 23andMe and only returned infrequently in the following months to complete a survey or two.

Two years later in Minnesota, when Christina Will took her DNA test in the fall of 2018, she did not expect much. But her search was not health related Her support team of birth-father-searching-sleuths (BFSS) urged her to take the test with the idea of finding a second or third cousin somewhere, and those cousins might provide clues to aid their search for a possible birth-father for Christie. When she opened the email from 23andMe on Christmas morning of 2018 and saw the report, she was shocked. There it was in black & white – a 50.0% DNA shared match with someone named Steve Larsen – the other half coming from her mother. You can get a more definitive statement of parentage. Over the next few weeks, Christie didn’t understand why I didn’t reach out to her? There were the results as plain as day, right on the 23andMe website! And yet, I’d not contacted her. What Christie did not know was I’d never gone back to the site after the first few month’s novelty had worn off. I was completely unaware we’d been matched in such a definitive way. Of course, since this has happened, I’ve spent a lot more time on 23andMe, and have found the information rather astounding. It is something I recommend everyone do – https://www.23andme.com/.

Impact on our family: The biggest impact, almost from the start and most certainly for the long-term, is on Ginger (and Christie, of course). At eight years of age, Ginger’s brother – and our son, Eric, died. Eric was two years old. While a very successful and well-adjusted adult, Ginger has never been able to fill the hole in her heart left by Eric’s passing. It was devastating for her then, and it took many years for her to work through these exceptionally painful memories. And they still affect her. Having a sibling – a genuine big sister who’s not only intelligent, witty and cleverly diabolical in a wonderful way – is changing Ginger’s life, even before throwing in the two beautiful nieces. Ginger is growing to love her “new” sister. She adores and dotes on her nieces. Something is emerging in Ginger I’ve never seen before. It is truly wonderful to watch.

Maggie has been as welcoming and supportive of her new step-daughter as one could possibly imagine. I kid her this was only after she’d “done the math,” confirming my relationship with Christie’s mother was several years before she and I had met. But in truth, this was never the case. Maggie is thrilled to add another daughter to the family and just as exciting, two grandchildren! Now if she can stop me referring to her as the “wicked step-mother,” she’ll be happy.

For me, it’s a near-constant dazzle of complex emotions. Incredible joy at all I’m learning from this remarkable woman who is my daughter. The extraordinary gifts she brings, such as her astounding husband and two incredible young girls – who are my granddaughters. Sadness too, as I realize how much I’ve lost in not knowing and being part of their lives sooner than this.

A most remarkable coincidence: In our early correspondences, Christie pointed out the uncanny resemblance between her youngest daughter, Parker, and pictures of Ginger when she was a kid. Truthfully, they look like they could be twins. Maybe I can set up a quiz?

Here is one of my favorite stories in all this: In one of the first visits Maggie, Ginger and I made to the Will household, Ginger brought along printouts of a dozen or so photos of her as a young girl. Showing us the pictures, we all were amazed at how much Ginger as a child looked like the current Parker. Christie’s husband, Jeff, had not been in the house when these pictures were revealed and fawned over. When he came in later, they were stacked on one corner of the kitchen table. I watched from the living room as entered the kitchen and picked up the stack of photos and started looking through them. After examining 4 or 5, he turned to Christie and said, “Honey, where are these pictures from? I don’t remember seeing these.” Christie turned to Jeff, saw what he was looking at, and grinned. “That’s because they’re not Parker, Jeff. Those are pictures of Ginger.” He couldn’t believe it. He had thought he was looking at photos of his daughter. Below are some photos of Parker Will and Ginger Larsen. See what I mean?

Being abandoned: When Christie was a teenager she discovered her birth certificate with the father field filled in “unknown.” She began to develop the feeling she’d been abandoned by her birth father, he didn’t want her. Her mother had never spoken of this mystery man or named him to anyone. Around the time her mother died, messages to the suspected birth father were met with denials, leading to stories fueling Christie’s feelings of being unwanted. It was only after discovering who her actual birth-father was years later, that it became apparent the messages to prospective birth fathers had gone to the wrong person. Christie speaks about this in her father’s day sermon and if you’ve not watched it, I recommend you do. You can find it here. This is a complex and strong emotion. It can’t have had a positive impact on Christie as she grew up and I have no idea how she’ll change knowing this major part of her history has been wrong. I wish there was some way I could fix this for her.

Making up for lost time: A frequent question is, “Well, after you met them, have you seen them again?” So far our two families seem to be on precisely the same page about this topic. We can’t get enough of each other. Maggie and I traveled to Minnesota for 6 weeks in the summer of 2019, hanging out and inventing excuses to visit our new daughter and grandkids. We had a grand time. Then in the fall, Christie and the girls spend the long Thanksgiving Day weekend here in Phoenix. And the Thanksgiving pilgrimage turned out to be only a scouting party, as over Christmas the entire family, including Jeff, came down the day after Christmas and stayed nine days until Jan. 3rd. We are having just an awesome time getting to know each other. The Coronavirus just wrecked a week-long visit here in April, but we’ve got our fingers crossed our summer plans will remain intact.