Ronnie Polaneczky: What we need to know about Jason Smith: Nothing

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Objects of affection and grief left outside Melissa Ketunuti's door.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Objects of affection and grief left outside Melissa Ketunuti's door.
Posted: January 25, 2013

OVER THE NEXT few days, we'll all get to know Jason Smith. He's the 36-year-old Levittown dirtbag who, police said, has confessed to killing Dr. Melissa Ketunuti.

We'll learn where he was born and went to school. We'll get the rundown on his exterminating job. We'll find out what neighbors made of him, before they were sickened by news from police that he strangled Ketunuti on Monday, then set her body on fire.

And we will hear his version of the events that allegedly provoked him to kill Ketunuti.

Ignore all of it. The details of Smith's pathetic life and his self-serving defense don't warrant a nanosecond of your time.

Save your attention for the astounding Ketunuti, 35, who has been robbed of her right to show the world who she would have become had she not crossed paths with a man lower than the rodents she'd hired him to get rid of.

If there is justice, Smith will age into a lonely and forgotten old man behind bars. And then he will die without ever subjecting us to another word about his pointless life.

And if there's a God, Ketunuti's legacy will be that her too-short life inspires others to take on the world's pain so that they might relieve it, the way she wanted to.

She was, simply, extraordinary.

The brilliant daughter of a Belgian mother and a Thai father, she left home in Bangkok to pursue her medical dreams in America.

She graduated from Stanford Medical School and did surgical internships at Georgetown University Hospital and at a veterans hospital. She worked with AIDS patients in Botswana for the National Institutes of Health. And she was toiling toward a master's degree in clinical epidemiology at Penn while working as a resident in infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

I got tired just typing all that.

She rarely made it back home to Bangkok - three years once passed between trips, she noted on a blog she kept. And she rarely had friends over, said neighbors on the 1700 block of Naudain Street, where she lived with her dog, a pit-bull/Lab mix named Pooch.

Given her schedule, who would have time for anything but work - and working out (which neighbors said she did religiously)?

Yet she still had a smile for folks on Naudain Street, in the shadow of Penn Medicine Rittenhouse, the former Graduate Hospital.

"She was very pleasant," said one of her shaken neighbors, Pamela Rimato Tirone. "Very full of life, very healthy."

It was during her long hours at CHOP, though, that she became known as more than a pleasant, busy neighbor.

"Melissa was a warm, caring, earnest, bright young woman with her whole future ahead of her," said Dr. Paul Offit, chief of CHOP's division of infectious diseases. "But more than that, she was admired, respected and loved . . . Her death will have a profound impact on those who worked with her and we will all miss her deeply."

The grief over any young person's death, of course, is the death of all that potential. For those whose lives had been rudderless, we can tell ourselves that one day they would've known success, had they only lived long enough to find themselves.

Even if, in our hearts, we doubt that such a future ever would've unfolded.

With Ketunuti, there's no question who she would've become. If you're a parent and you've ever spent time at CHOP, scared witless with a terribly sick child, you know the track she was on.

CHOP's passionate, young doctors are not like most of us. Intellectually hungry, driven by compassion and curiosity, they're not cowed by the long, slow and arduous work of understanding the human body and figuring out how to fix it when things go wrong.

It's not until your child is really, really sick that you appreciate the winding road these scientists have traveled to become the expert your kid desperately needs.

Ketunuti was one of them. She gave to the world in a way that makes the world better, that gives children comfort and their parents hope.

It's beyond tragic that Ketunuti is gone. And it would be beyond grotesque if the man who stole her future is given even one moment of our regard.

Her best years were in front of her. Jason Smith allegedly stole them, and that's the only thing we need to know about him.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: philly.com/ronnieblog

Columns: philly.com/Ronnie

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