Wendy Tucker ‘85, a partner in the life sciences practice at Sedgwick LLP in Los Angeles, became an advocate of an entirely different kind after her husband, a 45-year-old attorney, suffered a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a motorcycle accident.
In response to this life-changing event, Wendy expanded her practice to focus on catastrophic injury, and in particular TBI, including pro bono and volunteer work. Five years after the accident, Wendy and her husband Marco serve as the first Peer Counselors at UCLA hospital for other families suffering devastating brain injuries. Wendy has also spearheaded the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery’s Patient and Family Advisory Council (NPFAC).
Though an experienced litigator whose practice focuses on defending drug and medical device manufacturers and managing mass tort and other complex litigation, nothing prepared her for navigating care for her husband, then an employment litigator at Paul Hastings, who was hospitalized and in rehabilitation centers for a year after the 2008 accident. We caught up with her in June 2013.
Q: What was behind your decision to become personally and professionally involved in TBI issues?
A: I tried to turn Marco’s accident and all I have learned from it into something positive. For Marco and me, giving back to others has provided our greatest sense of purpose.
Q: What helped you cope in the early weeks after Marco’s accident, when he was in a coma?
A: Throughout Marco’s recovery, and in particular during the time he was nonresponsive, I focused on problem-solving. The critical thinking I have developed as an attorney, starting back in law school at UC Hastings, kicked in. That, and all of the incredible support of family and friends, helped me cope with the shock of finding ourselves in the UCLA Neuro-ICU.
Q: Was there anything specific in your legal training that helped you?
A: My legal training in general made me more comfortable in the role of an advocate. I was able to employ my skills in negotiation and resolving complicated issues. That sixth sense you have as a litigator, when taking someone’s deposition, perhaps, or working on a settlement and trying to read the other side, those skills were very helpful. Much of my role as an advocate was just dealing with people, knowing how to get what I wanted for Marco in a way that is respectful and accomplishes what he needed. My legal training and experience gave me not only helpful skills, but the confidence to be assertive when I needed to be.
Q: You’ve maintained your practice. How does your current volunteer work fit with your plan for your life?
A: I was initially inspired to attend law school by my college environmental law professor to “save the world.” I’ve always done pro bono work, and in fact from 2005-2012 was the firmwide chair of Sedgwick’s pro bono committee. It was a natural fit to try to take what happened to Marco and turn it into a way to help others. One of the most fulfilling outgrowths of this experience has been my pro bono work assisting veterans to obtain increased benefits for their injuries, including TBI.
Q: Since the accident, you’ve helped UCLA and Casa Colina, where Marco received care, in their fundraising efforts.
A: We have. Marco’s recovery, while slow, has been a miracle in the world of TBI, and we want to do what we can to support those institutions that were critical to his recovery. We regularly provide insights and support to the doctors, the hospitals, and current and former patients and their family members.
Q: You’ve helped institutionalize progressive patient care practices at UCLA.
A: Yes, that’s right. I was asked by the UCLA Neurosurgery Department to co-chair the newly formed NPFAC for the department. UCLA and many other health care facilities are focusing more on patient-centered care. This council provides a means to give the department ongoing input from patients and family members, and UCLA is forming similar councils throughout the hospital.
Q: Has Marco’s injury and your advocacy changed you as a lawyer?
A: It has given me an in-the-trenches perspective to being a caregiver and an injured party. People tend to paint defense attorneys as having no heart, which is absolutely not true. Now I have a much broader perspective and greater insight than most defense attorneys. I am more aware of the nuances of claims, including that injuries evolve, as does recovery.
Q: Before the injury, Marco practiced law. How is he now?
A: We met and fell in love at Sedgwick. This has been devastating for him, in particular. And it still is a very challenging thing. But he finds great fulfillment in providing support for others in a similar situation.
Wendy Tucker and Marco Ferreira live in Toluca Lake. Marco is back driving his classic cars and bicycling, and is taking writing courses at UCLA. Wendy continues to practice law with Sedgwick LLP in Los Angeles. In recognition of her volunteer work, she was nominated for the Women Making a Difference Awards, given annually by the Los Angeles Business Journal, and received Public Counsel’s Pro Bono of the Year award for her work with veterans.