Sam Weiss: No more pain: A senior’s struggle for normalcy
SAM WEISS, 17
HIGH SCHOOL: Granada Hills Charter High School
GOING TO: Ohio State
Sam Weiss, 17, was a medical mystery for most of his life.
He suffered from wrenching chest and stomach pains no doctor could properly diagnose. By last December, his condition had worsened to the point where he was physically shaking and frequently losing consciousness.
“I didn’t understand that that wasn’t the norm — that I wasn’t supposed to feel that,” he said in an interview.
Then, about two months ago, he underwent a surgery for a twist in his esophagus and eight ulcers.
As a graduating high school senior, the San Fernando Valley resident is preparing to reinvent himself as a college student living a new reality: a life without pain.
“For the first time ever, I feel good, and it’s amazing,” he said.
He added, “This is my reset button.”
Sam boasts a list of achievements that would be impressive even for a person who didn’t live his first 17 years in chronic pain.
For three years, he dedicated himself to independent study after his illness precluded him from regular enrollment at Granada Hills Charter High School.
As president of United Synagogue Youth’s (USY) for the Far West region, he leads the organization’s activities and conventions in Arizona and California.
He also tutors bar mitzvah students, including special needs students, and plays guitar, ukulele and piano. He also sings.
“Music is like the equivalent of my intermittent Shabbat. … I just sit back and relax and enjoy the sound, and my mind goes blank,” he said, adding that before his surgery, playing music was one of the things that enabled him to mute the pain.
But his career interests lie elsewhere: When he enrolls at the Ohio State University in the fall, he will be studying as a pre-medical student.
“The fact that he wants to be a doctor blows my mind,” Merrill Alpert, USY’s Far West youth director, told the Jewish Journal. “I was sure the kid was going to be a rabbi.”
His passion for the Jewish world notwithstanding (Sam called himself “extremely Jewish”), his decision to seek a medical education stemmed from the figures in his life who have brought him the most relief, as well as the most frustration.
“That was the worst day of my life, when a doctor said, ‘Yeah, this whole pain thing — it’s not going away. This is something that will be there forever,’” he said.
For years, doctors told him his pain was psychosomatic, that it was all in his head. He wasn’t satisfied with that answer. Finally he found a doctor who wasn’t satisfied, either.
After researching his condition on the internet, Sam came across a surgeon named Miguel Burch at Cedars-Sinai, who he thought could help, and convinced his parents that he should have surgery. Sam underwent a 5 1/2-hour operation that involved temporarily removing his stomach from his chest cavity.
Since the operation, he’s lost 30 pounds, works out nearly every day and now runs a 7-minute mile.
Explaining his decision to pursue pre-med in college, he said, “I can be that surgeon that helped me.”
With a pain-free life stretching out in front of him, Sam said his deliverance is “both bothering me and inspiring me,” as he wonders what could have been had he lived his whole life without pain.
“It’s not really fun to think about,” he said. “And yes, I struggled and it made me the person that I am, but who could I have been?”
Luckily, he has the rest of his life to answer that question.