Yehudit Abrams was a curious child. So much so that at the age of ten, she began her search for truth. Her Quaker upbringing in Boise, Idaho provided her with a strong connection to G-d, to prayer, and to studying the Bible, but she had too many questions that no one would answer.
"I was born questioning," Yehudit shares. "It didn't make sense to me that a man could be god, or the idea of original sin. It didn't make sense to me that a man who died on a cross could send me to heaven. It never added up, even at the age of ten." Yehudit continues, "I started realizing that the world was a bigger place. I started learning on my own."
Yehudit's love for her cello was her next step in her spiritual search. At the age of 13, her cello teacher gave her a complex piece called Kol Nidrei to play. Inexplicably, this piece deeply touched her soul. In the library where she spent much of her free time, she researched the piece and discovered that it was an ancient Jewish melody, part of a prayer. Her next step was to find someone who would sing it to her.
This led her to her first teacher of Judaism, the lay leader of the community synagogue, himself a convert. She began attending Friday night services regularly. Then she wondered if she could meet an actual cohen, like the ones who served in the Temple in Jerusalem. A quick search of the phone book told her that one lived across the street from her. This discovery sparked a life-long friendship which benefited both 17 year old Yehudit and 78 year old Reuben, each growing closer to Judaism in the process.
Fast forward a decade and a half. Yehudit has converted to Judaism in Tsfat, Israel, gotten an engineering degree at Oregon State University, become an MD through a six-year medical program in Prague, and traveled the world as part of a medical team helping third world countries. Yehudit finds herself on a team of incredible scientists working for NASA. The earthquake in Haiti draws at her heartstrings. She asks permission to delay her work at NASA in order to travel to Haiti as part of the medical team. She is told, "You may go to Haiti, but while you're there, think of Mars." She had no idea what this message meant, but she took off.
Working in Haiti, she finally understood. "To help the people of Haiti, we needed technology that's affordable and does not take a lot of power, that you can send imaging easily, remotely. It's exactly what we need to support a long duration space mission." Returning to NASA, Yehudit and team developed a device which she called the Body Window, which could image any part of the body and send the image remotely.
Yehudit's cousin was a prominent gynecologist and a breast cancer survivor who was passionate about early detection, because that is what saved her life. When her cousin died suddenly, Yehudit realized that the knowledge she had acquired could help her develop a device for early detection of breast cancer. The seed for MonitHer was planted.
Yehudit explains. "There are four main problems with the traditional method of mammography. First of all, we're not catching it early enough." If women are sent for a mammograph once every two years, lumps can remain undetected for a long time. Secondly, women at high risk for developing breast cancer, whether for hereditary reasons or breast-cancer survivors, take an MRI only once every six months. Another problem is that many women have dense breast tissue which makes detection difficult. Lastly, 1/3 of all mammography results are false positives.
The MonitHer, for which Yehudit recently won first prize in the WeWork Creator Competition, is a hand-held device that every woman could use in the privacy of her own home on a monthly basis. It saves data over time and detects changes, so that if necessary, a woman could send an image with her history to her doctor at the click of a button. Many unnecessary biopsies could be avoided, and detection at a much earlier stage can save thousands, if not millions of lives. Yehudit stresses that MonitHer strongly supports mammography screening, and works as a partner, not as a replacement.
Before standing in front of five thousand people to accept her award at the WeWork ceremony in Jerusalem, Yehudit shares how frightened she was. "And then it hit me." she tells. "This is where I need to be, what I was meant to be doing. This is why I had that experience at NASA, why I had seven years experience in Ultrasound research. This is what Hashem wanted me to do. That's what I went up to the stage with."
Yehudit ends by sharing this: "I just want to stress for people who are going through a hard time: I had a lot of failures. Each of them played an integral role in bringing me to where I am now. Hashem is behind each challenge. Don't give up."
Tune in for the full interview of an incredible woman, doing amazing things, and a true inspiration to all who meet her.