P&S Journal: Fall 1995, Vol.15, No.3
A Murder and a Life Rebuilt: By Douge Brunk
"For me, the case is meaningful in that the perpetrator won't be there to do the same thing to someone else," says Diana Wood'88, now an anesthesiologist at the Lahey Hitchcock Clinic in Burlington, Mass. "It doesn't bring John back to me. But for a lot of people, including my son, having the 'bad guy' caught makes them feel there is some right in the world."
Before the night of Nov. 2, 1981, it seemed like everything was going right for the Woods. He was a 31-year-old resident in pediatric surgery and she was a 24-year-old surgical nurse at Presbyterian Hospital, four months pregnant with their first child. But hopes for the newlyweds ended abruptly that night as Dr. Wood walked back to Presbyterian Hospital after taking a dinner break at the couple's nearby apartment.
Three young men-one with a gun-confronted him at the corner of 165th Street and Riverside Drive and demanded money. Dr. Wood apparently resisted. After a brief struggle, he was shot in the heart and died an hour later in the hospital where he worked.
The perpetrators escaped with a few credit cards and $5 in cash and ran from a senseless killing that left Diana Wood without a friend, a husband, and a father for her unborn child. But she was determined to steer clear of long-term grief. After John III was born in the spring of 1982, she vacationed with her parents and sister at Martha's Vineyard to rethink her roadmap for life.
"While I was there I began to realize, I have to do something for myself. I can't just sit here and do nothing. I have to make a plan, because I'm not going to survive this if I don't make a plan that is going to take me somewhere," she recalls.
In what she calls an "impulse," she decided to become a physician and immediately applied to the pre-med program at Columbia's College of General Studies. Two years later she applied to P&S and was almost immediately accepted.
"I didn't have time to interview anywhere else," she remembers. "I guess in the back of my mind I was thinking one doctor was gone, and I could replace him in a way. Although I could
never have replaced John."
School administrators chose to waive her tuition because of the challenges she faced as a widow and a single parent. Dr. Donald Tapley was dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the time and Dr. Linda Lewis was dean of students.
"If I had not had that, it would have been an extreme financial hardship for me and my son," Dr. Wood says. "The other aspect was, it was a gesture as if I was one of theirs, that they were going to take care of me if the person that was supposed to be taking care of me wasn't going to. That made me feel really good."
Dr. Wood also received emotional support from friends, faculty, and hospital employees as she carried her textbooks through the same halls where John learned medicine. "In fact, my residency here in Boston was a lot harder, because I didn't have that kind of support," she says. "I really miss Columbia." A turning point for Dr. Wood in confronting John's death came after a 1994 ceremony honoring New York City Police Detective Jerry Giorgio and his colleagues for persevering in their investigation. (One suspect was arrested in 1994, the other this past spring.) There, several people who knew Dr. John Wood openly shared their thoughts about him. One of those people, Eric Rose'75, now chairman of surgery at P&S, was a resident in surgery at the time of the shooting.
"When Eric spoke, he got a little choked up," Dr. Wood recalls. "For so long a time, John's death seemed like it happened only to me. Seeing how other people react I realize that it didn't just happen to me or to his family or his friends. It happened to the institution as well. It was a loss for all."
Today, Dr. Wood is enthusiastic about her future. This past March she married Gregg Dunphy, a computer consultant, and now John III has a dad to know. "He has a step-father now, and he's really focused on having a father, period," she says. "He calls his biological father 'my father' and he calls my husband 'my dad.'"
Though life is much different for her now from when she was 24, Dr. Wood considers her ties to Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center deeply rooted. "The only people who knew John and me as a couple were the people at Columbia, so it felt like home to me."
"It still does."