Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Strangers Among Us

The front page of this past Sunday's Hartford Courant, my hometown newspaper, featured an article about Dr. George Reardon, the former Chief of Endocrinology at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, CT, who died in 1998 and has been accused of sexually brutalizing and photographing 500 children and adolescents.

Reardon lured his young patients into his perverted lair "after persuading their parents to enroll them in his human growth study", said the article.

The 90 plaintiffs now suing the hospital for possibly tens of millions of dollars claim Reardon forced them to pose for photographs in the nude or with other children in sexually suggestive ways, wrote the article's author, Edmund Mahony.

In addition, the subsequent owners of Reardon's home after his death, wrote Mahony, three boys whom Reardon described as foster children, discovered a secret cache of more than 50,000 pornographic slides and motion picture films hidden behind paneling inside the home.

I was a patient of Dr. Reardon's for nearly fifteen years, and was a participant in his study, with the approval of my parents.

When the story of Reardon's alleged and monstrous pedophilia first broke several years ago, I was shocked. I had a hard time believing that the avuncular and authoritative man who'd treated my hypothyroidism through puberty, adolescence, and into my early 20s was a sinister fiend.

He was tall, with huge hands, which often held a cigarette when he counseled my mother and me in his office, lined with medical books and journals. He spoke in soft and gentle tones, but you always felt he was in charge. He was the one my mother turned to when I had a serious bout of anxiety when I was 11 or 12. Reardon, a father figure, comforted me as I poured out my tears of shame. I can still see him behind his thick wood desk, glass topped, and me, seated in front, a jangle of nearly out of control emotions.

I can also still see and feel his fingers gently clasped around my throat as he repeated, "Sip, swallow," as he tested my thyroid while I drank a cup of water. He was patient.

I was about 15 when I entered his study, for which it appears he did secure grant money from the hospital, after my parents signed the appropriate waivers and protocol agreements. We had one or two sessions that I now recall. I sat, naked, on the examination table while he, standing at the opposite end of the room, photographed me in the dark, the absence of light necessary, Reardon said, for the specific type of growth documentation his was gathering for his study.

He never touched me during these nocturnal-feeling episodes. My parents and I accepted Reardon's explanation that my participation in his study would contribute to science. Years later, after I shared my story with a colleague, she wondered how photographing a nude teenage boy had anything to do with treating one's thyroid condition or documenting my growth.

I now know that included in Reardon's sick trove of pornographic photos and slides are pictures of an innocent and trusting young man who grew up in Bloomfield, CT. And I was obviously not alone. There were hundreds of young patients he attacked or photographed. But I was lucky. I was never a direct victim of abuse.

I ache with pain for the 90 adults who are now reliving their horrendous past with an alleged pedophile as they await the trial that could begin this week. St. Francis claims that the hospital was not only unaware of Reardon's nefarious research and behavior, but had also never received a complaint about him.

Reardon died 13 years ago, so I imagine he is burning (and I hope being tormented and tortured) for eternity. His victims are alive and probably struggling to integrate their awful experiences with Reardon and his kindly and calming demeanor.

I do not consider myself a plaintiff, nor do I know if the hospital is culpable. I only hope that justice is truly served. Reardon's alleged crimes and their aftermath, especially how he conned people into believing he was a dedicated medical professional, are scary to contemplate for me and reveal yet again that dangerous people can be successful at hiding their true selves.

Reardon's story at its fundamental core is about the abrogation of trust, and how a portion of my history has been ripped to shreds.

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