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Posted on Monday, June 7th, 2010 at 9:19 pm. About Ramblings.

Farewell to Dr. Alvord, Dr. Spence, Dr. Bowling, and Dr. Lipski

So far, 2010 has been a difficult year for me (and for medicine) as the medical community has lost four amazing physicians.

  • Dr. Ellsworth “Buster” Alvord was a senior neuropathologist at Harborview who enjoyed grilling me in front of colleagues as I would give presentations, and within minutes was taking the time to teach me a complicated concept. The following day he would come with a compliment. The man was larger than life in the pathology world, and in the club of great philanthropists. His support of the arts and of local hospitals in the Seattle area was tremendous. The halls of Harborview are definitely more silent without his presence.
  • Dr. Alexander Spence was one of the kindest people I have ever known. A prominent neurooncologist, Dr. Spence could not seem to give enough to the care of his patients. He encouraged residents to contact him at any time – weekends, midnight, whenever, and was always gracious during those calls. He also first described spinocerebellar ataxia type 3, “Machado Joseph Disease,” while still a neurology resident. When I assembled a talk for Grand Rounds on hereditary ataxias, Dr. Spence dug out his film canisters with moving picture footage of himself as a young man examining members of the Machado family, had the footage digitized, and gave it to me. What a generous gesture, and I’m so grateful to have this piece of neurological history. He apparently did not want an obituary or a memorial service. Ironically, after all of those mornings of observing Drs. Spence and Alvord sitting around the neuropathology table, discussing their mutual patients, Dr. Spence was gone within a week of Dr. Alvord’s passing. It was a tough week.
  • Dr. Andrew Bowling and I last saw one another the summer after I graduated from medical school as he was entering his fourth year, attempting to decide whether he wished to pursue family practice or psychiatry. We ran on the cross country team together in high school, and with this team enjoyed kayaking and rafting trips. His biting wit and great intellect are what I will remember the most about him. He could be gravely serious one minute, and tumbling from the couch from laughing so violently at a line in a Mel Brooks film the next. I envied his perfect verbal SAT score, and how effortlessly academic endeavors seemed to come to him. We had recently reconnected, and it was wonderful to learn of how happy he was to have time for his kayak, guitar, and other interests now that his residency had ended. He passed away at the age of 30 in February.
  • Dr. Greg Lipski passed away last week after a five year battle with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Greg was an electrical engineer, and returning to medical school served as a second career for him. During his second year of med school, he received this startling diagnosis, and nothing was the same again. He fought through chemotherapy, radiation, and a difficult stem cell transplant, and returned to school the following year, graduating in 2008. I had the privilege of serving as the senior resident on the inpatient neurology service at UW during Greg’s neurology clinical rotation and got to know him very well. During my late call nights, he almost always hung around, really just to chat as I awaited studies to return or patients transferring from outside hospital. He loved people, and wanted more than anything to spend time with patients, getting to know their stories, and providing hope to those on the oncology service through his own example. His leukemia relapsed during his intern year. I visited him in the hospital just after this, and his attitude remained optimistic. His emails to me, and to his colleagues, always guaranteed wisdom. I have saved all of them. While it is tragic to lose such a remarkable individual at the age of 42, I cannot imagine anyone doing more in this amount of time than Greg did.

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