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NIH Record  
Vol. LXIII, No. 4
  February 18, 2011
Symposium Honors 100th Aniversary of Sickle Cell Paper
Conference for Underrepresented Students Reaches 10-Year Milestone
ORWH, Partners Share Research on ‘Polytrauma’
Women’s Health Research Symposium Showcases Interdisciplinary Research
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‘The Richest Trip’
Playwright Conducts Own ‘Study’ of Health Care, Reveals Results in Performance
  On a visit to NIH, playwright Anna Deavere Smith performs excerpts from her latest play.  
  On a visit to NIH, playwright Anna Deavere Smith performs excerpts from her latest play.  

It was as though Anna Deavere Smith had taken a grand tour of health care and brought back slides to share. Only instead of the usual quaint travel landscapes, the images Smith captured were 3D—actual people who talked and gestured. The characters she met laughed and sighed. One ranted and another even told off-color jokes—right on stage in Masur Auditorium. And each one sounded unique, but looked exactly like the performer who embodied them.

A playwright who’s also acted on stage and screen for some 40 years, Smith said she’s been searching for American characters since the 1970s. For her latest project—Let Me Down Easy, a one-woman play that she’s written and is taking on nationwide tour—she did 320 interviews on 3 continents. The total production—perhaps a drama/documentary hybrid with doses of humor—consists basically of Smith armed with a microphone. She uses no costumes or props to speak of, although one character in particular seemed quite comfortable with bottle in hand, occasionally gulping great noisy swallows. Sometimes Smith is seated, but often she’s a lone figure standing centerstage in a one-sided conversation. The effect is powerful, intimate.

Determination, Willpower Crucial
Employee Nearing Goal in Weight-Loss Battle

Pretty soon, Ronald M. Thomas will be less than half the man he used to be and he’s thrilled about it.

A government employee who works as a housekeeper in the 5 East laboratories of the Clinical Research Center, he is on a mission to lose 220 pounds. He’s about 40 pounds away and continues to chip away, bit by bit. Looking at him now, it’s hard to believe Thomas, who stands 6’1”, weighed 420 pounds at his peak and once wore size 6X clothing.

“I had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, I felt tired all the time, I sweat all the time, I didn’t feel like doing anything,” he said.

His feet and ankles were strained by the pressure on them. He wore a brace to keep one ankle from buckling. His eyes always looked bloodshot and his doctor warned him that he was pre-diabetic. In his late 40s, Thomas’s body was giving out on him.