B y Michael Emond
A turning point in Yvonne LaPlante’s young life happened when she was a junior at GCHS. She entered a beauty pageant in Albany.
“I didn’t like to be on stage, but I did it.” For the talent portion of the pageant she did a dance routine. She was declared second runner-up, and something in her changed.
After graduation, she enrolled in Springfield College for elementary education, but came home after one semester. She held several jobs, including working for doctors in Cambridge. A radio ad offered opportunities for modeling. Encouraged by her mother, she entered a model search in Albany and was chosen. She decided to go to New York City. Alone.
“I went to New York City to look into modeling,” she said in a recent interview. “But you can’t have a full time job and be a model, so I waited tables.”
The restaurants were some of New York’s most exclusive at the time, Le Comptoir and Le Relais.
“I was always broke, but I met Sting, Madonna, Ilie Nastase (professional tennis player) and many others.”
Still uncertain, she came home for a few weeks. With more encouragement from her family, she again went to New York, this time to live in Staten Island where living was less expensive, and continued modeling.
“I was trying to find myself,” she said.
“I actually signed a contract to model in Italy, but I was apprehensive, and didn’t go. I worked at several hospitals and doctors’ offices as a temp, then became an assistant to the chairman of the department of surgery at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. I was responsible for patient relations and traveled to other hospitals with him, including Gastroenterological Associates, Kips Bay Medical, NYU Medical Center, and Lenox Hill Urological.
“The commute to Brooklyn was getting to be difficult, so I took a position at Healthcare Associates in Medicine in Staten Island scheduling neurological surgical procedures.”
There she met Dr. Edwin Chang.
“My husband, a neurosurgeon, and I were married in 1996. We have two daughters, Chelsea, 16, and Maya, 12. Maya was born with a birth defect, called congenital short femur, or CSF. There are many secondary diagnoses. For my daughter it meant hip surgery at 3, total knee construction at 7, lengthening of her left leg at 8. That took eight months. I had to live in Baltimore with my two girls.” Maya is now fully functioning, but faces another surgery.
Yvonne was disappointed that New York City, known as the medical center of the world, had no way to treat Maya.
“Because of this, I started a foundation called ‘The Friends of Maya Chang Foundation.’ I am proud to say that we have raised over $100,000 since its inception in 2007. All the money stays in my community and goes toward pediatric disabilities and programs.”
The foundation also helped out after Hurricane Sandy struck last year. Check out Friends of Maya Chang on Facebook.
Though she no longer works, Yvonne keeps busy.
“I am currently am a member of the Foundation Board of the University Hospital of Staten Island North Shore Health System. I also am on their Quality Assurance and Patient Safety Committees.
“My hobbies include going to the gym every day, meditation, attending charity events, dining in Manhattan with friends and traveling. My family and I returned from a trip to Paris and London in August. It brought back so many great memories (of a high school trip to Europe) for me.”
Yvonne is presently going to school full time at City University of New York – Staten Island to earn a BA in psychology, with minors in sociology and anthropology.
“I did not start out with this career choice in mind, but life has a funny way of making decisions for us. My current plans are to get into a master’s program to complete my Masters in Public Health so I can work with families and children dealing with difficult and lengthy surgical procedures. I coach cheer (at Maya’s school), volunteer at the Christmas Fair and do face painting.”
A fond memory of high school is Mr. Sufnarski’s biology class.
“He loved biology, and so did I. I keep in touch with several people from GCHS on Facebook, but I don’t get to see anyone as I am very busy here with family, foundation and school.
“I visit my parents in Hebron as much as I can, and when I can’t, they come to New York City.”