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Lisa S. Scheinin, '86
A Stomach for Success
Squeamish is not a word to describe Dr. Lisa S. Scheinin. She owns a seven-foot long boa constrictor, rides the most terrifying roller coastersthe kind with eight loops shes a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and she doesnt mind a little blood and guts.
Dr. Scheinin, who lives in Redondo Beach, Calif., is a deputy medical examiner with the Los Angeles County Coroners office. I like doing autopsies. I like getting my hands dirty, says Dr. Scheinin, 46, and a 1986 graduate of the medical school. There are many, many other doctors who think pathology is icky because you are rooting around in guts. I love the detective aspect, the problem solving and answering questions.
Dr. Scheinins scalpel has cut into murderers, murder victims and movie stars. L.A. gangs have kept us busy, she says. She autopsied comedian Steve Allen, Nerine Shatner, the wife of actor William Shatner, and actor Brian Keith, who died in 1997 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Dr. Scheinin couldnt help see the irony while working on Keith. She remembered his role as a policeman in The Russians Are Coming which she saw as a young girl. He was in one of my favorite movies, she says. These people are multi-millionaires and well-known, but they die just like anybody else.
Some cases are gruesome and complicated. In 1994, she autopsied three members of the Charles family, and two of the bodies were charred beyond recognition. Dr. Scheinin discovered that the father and sons skulls had been shattered with a blunt instrument, while the mother was strangled. The case broke open when a homeless person found a wrench covered with blood and hair in a dumpster and turned it in to police. The wrench was owned by Eddie Charles, the eldest son, who had gone on a rampage. He was convicted right away, Dr. Scheinin says.
Dr. Scheinin grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and was interested in medicine as a youngster. While in high school, she volunteered as a candy striper, and was intrigued by the hospitals laboratory. After graduation she became a senior hospital volunteer, and over the summer she worked in the lab, cleaning glassware, drawing blood, and observing the pathologists analysis of human tissues to see if they were abnormal. When she was 18, she saw her first autopsy of a girl a year older who had died of bacterial meningitis. I didnt think it was gross; I thought it was interesting, she says.
The autopsy technician from the medical examiners office was impressed that the young Scheinin didnt faint. He got permission so she could observe more autopsies at the Suffolk County medical examiners office. When summer ended, Dr. Scheinin attended Johns Hopkins University and graduated in 1975 with a natural sciences degree. Five years later, she received a masters degree in pathology from the University of Maryland, and in 1986, she earned her medical degree. Dr. Scheinin moved West, and in 1991 she did a fellowship at the L.A. County Coroners office, where she is today.
When she isnt in the autopsy room, Dr. Scheinin, who is married, rides roller coasters. She has ridden 645 in 222 parks in 19 countries, including Japan, Australia and England. She is the past editor-in-chief of RollerCoaster! magazine and is on staff as an associate editor. It is just fun, and it is a great reason to travel, Dr. Scheinin says.
She is also working toward a second degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and has two pet snakes, Balboa, the boa constrictor, and a ball python, named Hey You. They dont smell, they dont make noise, they eat once a week, she says.
But her passion is uncovering the mysteries of death. Sometimes you can really perform a service for people, Dr. Scheinin says. You tell the family what you have found. You can really help them out.
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