Reflections of Nina

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Alfonsina or by her nickname “NINA”, was every parent’s dream child. She was pretty, intelligent, sensitive, full of love and laughter, and especially full of energy. She was interested in many things, and to the degree that her health allowed, participated in many activities. She loved to swim to learn and to study. She loved school so much, that the worst punishment or threat we could issue was “Nina, if you don’t behave you cannot go to school tomorrow”. From the time Nina was four or five, she wanted to be a teacher. She would often gather the neighborhood children after school, and bring them into our garage. It had been fitted as a pseudo classroom with blackboard and seats. There she would play teacher and give lessons of what she had learned that day. When grandpa came to visit, she would give him lessons in English, since he spoke only Spanish.

Nina was blessed with intelligence. When her IQ was measured in elementary school it was about 150. She also possessed a near photographic memory, and very capable long-term memory. This ability was inherited from her grandfather, Alfonso Quintana y Pena, after whom she was named. He was an attorney in Spain and was an elected Senator to the Congress of 1931. He helped write the Constitution of 1931, thus liberating Spain from the yoke of the monarchy and setting her on a course of Democracy.

At the tender age of 13 during her birthday party, she had her first terrifying grand mal seizure. The neighborhood children were in the back yard playing and swimming in the pool. She was in the pool and that is where she had the seizure. Her dad jumped in and brought her out. The young children, not understanding, were frightened. Somehow the party continued, they all had their cake and ice cream but Nina was never the same and almost overnight her little friends disappeared. She became a lonely, morose child who studied all the time in spite of daily headaches.

This began a period of regular visits to the Kaiser clinic or hospital emergency room. So much so that we felt we should have seats with our names printed on them. It also set us, her parents, on a quest to find a specialist that could help our daughter, since the physicians at Kaiser were at a loss to treat her condition. We never gave up even when doctors told us she was incurable. In spite of all her suffering, pain, seizures and limitations, we always treated Nina as a normal child. To the extent possible she grew up as a normal child, participating in all the activities that most children enjoy, she played piano, took ballet, was in girls scouts, rode her bike and loved to run, play and swim.

Nina graduated from Patrick Henry High School in San Diego prior to her 16th birthday. By her own choice she carried twice as many classes daily as her classmates. She was admitted to University of California San Diego the summer after graduation. She took Chemistry and Calculus earning A’s in both classes. The fall semester, however, turned out to be a disaster. She was living on campus and we spoke with her regularly, and visited her every week. We thought that everything was going well until we received her fall grades. She had failed all her classes. When asked, she explained that the seizures were no longer controlled by medication, even the massive doses that physicians were prescribing. Most days she could not go to class, because she could not walk or even get out of bed. Her roommate had left her all alone, and she had no help.

That for us was an extreme low point. Nina was a stoic who never complained, and never wanted to hurt us, even when her life was falling apart. By the way, when the Dean of University found out the reason for her failing grades, her record was expunged clean and only the two A’s remained.
Our desperate quest for treatment led us to UCLA and Dr. Walter and Dr. Crandall and his team who performed brain surgery in 1977. After the surgery Nina’s life was on an upward swing and she finished her degrees, got a job, and was briefly married . However the shadow of epilepsy was always there and medication, neurologists, and the search for new diagnostic techniques and new treatments became part of our lives.

She had storybook qualities. She was honest, trustworthy, loyal hardworking, appreciative and independent. She had inviolable integrity and a sense of justice that at times got her into some trouble. In today’s world these might seem to be handicaps. She never hurt anyone and family was all important to her. She had and old fashion morality and qualities rarely found in today’s world. One of her major qualities was gratitude, gratitude for all those who had loved and cared for her. She adored Dr. Schweitzer for giving her a second chance at life, when he performed a second brain surgery on her, eleven months before she passed away. She loved Dr. Crandall who basically saved her life as a teenager. She often said to us, how sad it was that neither one of the doctors had a twin brother that she could marry.
Even in the midst of all of her health struggles. She found time for hobbies such as professional sports, especially football. She could have easily been one of the San Diego Chargers’ referees. She would call the moves or the penalties prior to the coach or the referees.

Her strength and leadership in several school districts led to Nina becoming the interface between the district and agencies that had filed suits against the district. Through this she became quite familiar with certain aspects of the law, and in a slow period while she worked in Hawaii, decided to take the LSAT ( a difficult test to be admitted to a law school). She thought that she might want to go to law school when she retired – a thought she carried until she passed. She barely had time to study the materials available but took the test, and passed it with sufficiently high marks that she was eligible for upper tier schools. In fact she was recruited by two of them, but she preferred to stay close to us and remain in education.

Nina was honest as the day was long, her courage before the adversity she had to endure for over 50 years is inspiring. Her determination to succeed no matter what obstacles were put in front of her was admirable. She was a fighter for right causes. She defended herself when accused unjustly as well as others who might suffer poor treatment. She was a great researcher and always won all her cases based on facts and the law. She also read medical books on the side, much as others read novels. She knew so much about drugs and the anatomy that when we had a question she always had the answer.
She was a gift to us and to so many folks that she helped. She taught us how to be patient, kind and loving. She was the sunshine of our life, the compass that guided all our actions and we are now lost without her. Our love for her is infinite and we are grateful for the 52 years God loaned her to us.