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Surgery resident sues SUNY Downstate after spinal infection paralyzes her, sidelines degree

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LOWER MANHATTAN —Svetlana Kleyman's dream was always to become a breast cancer surgeon, but a spinal infection put her in a wheelchair, possibly for life.

Now, she is still fighting to live her dream.

"Having gone through an illness," Svetlana Kleyman told PIX11 News. "I feel a deeper connection with patients."

The 31-year-old surgical resident had already completed four years of medical school and most of her residency when a spinal infection left her paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair.

After months of rehab, the Indiana native was all set to return to the last year of her surgical residency at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn when school officials told her they didn't have the "clinical capacity" to take her back.

"I don't know if they just got scared because they never dealt with someone in a wheelchair and they didn't know how to accommodate me," Kleyman said.

"But it wasn't anything I did. I had excellent evaluations right before I got sick."

Kleyman and her lawyer have filed a federal lawsuit to get the doctor reinstated at SUNY Downstate, plus unspecified damages.

The surgical resident still has a quarter of a million dollars in student loans.

"This case is exactly why we have disability discrimination laws," lawyer Daniel Kaiser told PIX11 News. "It is disability discrimination in its purest form. Nothing prevents her from being a surgeon."

Dr. Kleyman's case has touched doctors across the country, including Dr. Pamela Wible, the founder of the Ideal Medical Movement. Many point to successful doctors with disabilities like Dr. Ted Rummel, an orthopedic surgeon, who uses a standup wheelchair.

Dr. Kleyman's mother can't believe how downstate has treated her hardworking daughter who battled an incredible illness and now just wants her job back.

"I cannot believe a hospital where physicians take an oath to help actually do this to one of their own," Diana Kleyman, The doctor's mother, told PIX11 News.

A spokesman for SUNY Downstate Medical Center declined to comment.