Personal tragedy spurs Jefferson honoree’s action

May 20, 2009 | Features
By Kim Goodin

One in four women will be in an abusive relationship at some point in their lives.

Pat Rizzi, a nurse at UT Medical Center, received the University's fourth Jefferson Award from President Lloyd Jacobs.

Pat Rizzi, a nurse at UT Medical Center, received the University's fourth Jefferson Award from President Lloyd Jacobs.

To some, these are just numbers. To others, the numbers become faces — sometimes drawn, bruised and forlorn. Pat Rizzi had seen many of these faces during her years as a trauma nurse at the Medical College of Ohio Hospital, now The University of Toledo Medical Center.

In the late 1990s, the face became that of her daughter, Michelle. Once domestic violence struck too close to home, however, the capable trauma nurse was dumbfounded.

“I thought I knew what advice to give as a nurse, but I didn’t,” said Rizzi, who’s been with the University for 24 years. “I thought like most people: ‘Why don’t you just leave him?’”

Her daughter, a graduate of Bowling Green State University, had met and married her husband quickly. By the time Rizzi spied Michelle’s bruises, her daughter was entangled in a marriage that would eventually conclude in her disappearance and, a year later, the discovery of her body.

Once the criminal investigation and trial of Michelle’s husband — who was convicted of her murder and is in prison — ended, Rizzi tried to find direction for her sorrow.

“You drift around, wondering what to do,” she said. “You can either wallow in self-pity or try to make a difference.”

“Trying” isn’t the word to describe what Pat has done to honor the memory of her daughter. The trauma nurse has made domestic violence a personal cause and touched the lives of countless others, from colleagues to victims and families affected by abuse and even to abusers themselves.

For her efforts, she has been named the fourth recipient of UT’s monthly Jefferson Award.

“Pat was absolutely driven to make sure other mothers have help available so they don’t have to lose their daughters,” said Mary Ann Dimick, nursing director of 5AB, 5CD and cardiovascular lab at UTMC. “She’s brought this terrible tragedy out into the open, when many wouldn’t have exposed that kind of wound.”

With the help of UT faculty and administrators, Pat has spearheaded efforts to enhance UTMC’s policies regarding domestic violence, promoting better awareness of abuse and ensuring victim resources are readily available in treatment areas. She is a member of the Lucas County Domestic Violence Task Force and often recounts her daughter’s story during public awareness events.

Two particular programs — Silent Witness and Take Back the Night — receive much of Rizzi’s attention.

She addresses participants at the annual Silent Witness unveiling each October in Bowling Green. Life-sized silhouettes create a solemn display, each bearing the name and story of the victim.

Michelle’s figure, Rizzi noted, represented northwest Ohio’s first Silent Witness. Since the program began in 2002, 49 silhouettes have been added.

“Pat is an extremely powerful individual,” Dimick remarked. “She doesn’t even realize the change she’s made. This is who she is now.”

The mother who once drifted after her daughter’s death has found sharp focus in service to others.

“I talk about domestic violence in some fashion every day,” Rizzi said. “Michelle was always looking to give back. To help her and people like her, I choose to give back, too.”

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