Mathew Rudes refuses to let the enormity of his medical challenges interfere with the phenomenal workings of his mind. His intellect, humor and ability to delve into his studies has allowed him to achieve academic excellence while dealing with a debilitating disease and the growing list of side effects that put additional strain on his body.
Rudes was born with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. It affects the heart, skeleton, skin, spine, eyes and nearly every other part of the body. Unfortunately for Rudes, his case is the rarest and most severe form - Spontaneous Infantile Marfan syndrome, meaning neither of his parents had the Marfan gene. Rudes has been a medical enigma since birth, and has endured fourteen major surgeries - including two heart operations - and dealt with complications that included losing the ability to walk and developing an excruciating Chronic Pain Syndrome that began before he reached adolescence. In 2008, he was featured in an ABC News story that detailed his condition and interviewed doctors who have been astonished by his resilience.
But Marfan syndrome does not impinge on the mind. And Rudes has endured his physical ailments and debilitating pain by delving into school and utilizing a hearty dose of wit. "I developed this Gallows humor out of necessity," he said. "One time I was in the emergency room with a really intense headache. My mom told a joke to turn my screams of pain into laughter. A nurse overheard us and yelled at us to be quiet, 'There are sick people here, an emergency room is no place to be laughing!' This only made us laugh harder. Growing up in that environment of constant hospitalization, keeping up the humor was a necessity."
Despite his physical issues, Rudes' desire to help others has provided the impetus for him to study law. He wants to become a prosecutor and give voice to those victims of crime who cannot speak for themselves. After graduating as valedictorian from James Monroe High School's Law and Government Magnet in Van Nuys, he earned a bachelor's degree in English from UCLA, graduating summa cum laude with college honors.
He applied to Southwestern's day program, but Rudes likes to say that SCALE® came looking for him. Professor Harriet Rolnick, Director of the SCALE Program, saw his application and contacted him to interview for the two-year course of study. "She told me about the benefits of the program," Rudes explained. "The two years wasn't the biggest factor for me. The idea of a smaller and consistent class, a group of people I could depend on, really appealed to me. The way I was treated when I came here to interview made me feel so fantastic. I knew it was the right option for me."
The close-knit community that SCALE offers has made a huge difference
for Rudes, whose mother, Carol, drives him to school and remains on
campus with him to make sure she can help him if his pain issues become
too overwhelming. "Although I loved my experience at UCLA, my four years
there were very difficult for me," Rudes said. "The campus is huge, and
every quarter there were new classes and a whole new group of people to
try to connect with. SCALE has given me a closer set of friends with a
unified sense of purpose."
He has especially enjoyed taking Professor Karen Smith's Criminal Procedure course as well as Evidence with Professor Isabelle Gunning. He is grateful to Professor Christine Lorillard, his LAWS professor, for training him to "write like a lawyer," and for giving him his first paying job as a research assistant. He considers Professor Ron Aronovsky, who taught his Civil Procedure class, a mentor. "He was willing to meet with me right before finals in the first quarter, even to discuss other subjects, just to give me an idea of what to anticipate," Rudes said. "His tips and advice were reassuring and helpful. He's just so friendly and patient, not only in his approach to students, but in his receptiveness. He is definitely a role model for me of the kind of lawyer I want to be."
During the summer, Rudes split his time between working as a Research Assistant and externing for eight weeks at the Van Nuys Hardcore Gang Division, a satellite branch of the District Attorney's Office. There, he worked for SCALE alumnus Daniel Akemon '95, researching legal topics, writing motions, and assisting with trial exhibit preparations. In the Spring, Rudes hopes to return to this office and split his time with the preliminary hearing department. His goal is to work for the DA's office.
Rudes is also currently participating as a Senior Advocate in the Trial Advocacy Honors Program and has signed up for a fall competition. "The storyteller in me likes to come out when writing my argument," he said. "I enjoy using my creative writing talents, and my propensity to argue anything helps. TAHP also allows me to express my creative side through closing arguments."
When he's not studying, he likes to play video games, play with his cat Oreo, and write. He has squirreled away the first draft of a novel he wrote during his second year at UCLA. Academia remains his salvation. "I think the desire to strive academically and immersing myself in my studies has become my way of coping with the pain," Rudes said. "It's a means of distraction, and it's what I love to do. Giving up was never a choice. I refuse to let the pain dictate where my life will go."