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In Memoriam - Lee Lipsenthal, MD: Comments from Ornish, Maizes, Shannon, Lawson, Rakel, Sierpina + PDF Print E-mail
Written by John Weeks   

In Memoriam: Lee Lipsenthal, MD - Notes from Ornish, Maizes, Shannon, Lawson, Warner, Rakel and Sierpina

Summary: Lee Lipsenthal, MD died on September 20, 2011. He played key roles in promoting a more humane, integrative health care and a model of "health creation" - as one of his friends and colleagues calls it in these notes and remembrances. Lipsenthal served with such leading entities as the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine and his own Finding Balance in a Medical Life program to help physicians re-connect with healing. Here are comments on Lipsenthal from Scott Shannon, Victoria Maizes, Dean Ornish, Wendy Warner, Vic Sierpina, Karen Lawson and Dave Rakel.

Lee Lipsenthal, MD, ABIHM
Lee Lipsenthal, MD
was an individual who was involved in multiple, important roles in the development of health care that is more humane, patient-centered, satisfying to physicians, integrative and health creating.

I encountered Lee first in the late 1990s when he was working with Dean Ornish's Preventive Medicine Research Institute. His subsequent work included leadership in what is now the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine, during which he helped it transition to add "integrative" to its title. Lee assisted medical doctors in physician heal thyself course he developed, Finding Balance in a Medical Life. The American Medical Association was among its sponsors. His clients included many of the more significant institutions in US medicine.

Lee and I communicated in recent months about throat cancer, in his case esophageal cancer. He died surrounded by his family on September 20, 2011. I contacted a few of his colleagues for comments on Lee and his contributions. His book on his process toward exiting, Enjoy Every Sandwich, will be out this fall. This You Tube site on the book includes a video that features Lee and his wife Kathy Chang Lipsenthal.


Scott Shannon, MD, ABIHM, President
American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine

Lee Lipsenthal was one of the rare and valuable humans that was broadly and deeply competent. As such he played many, many roles in my life. He was dear friend and mentor, confidant and teacher, playmate and leader, foil and collaborator. We worked closely on the ABIHM together for many years and shared a passion for changing the face of modern medicine.
He was at home in a board room with hospital CEOs as with spiritual seekers in the midst of a regressive psychotic experience. He was typically the top rated speaker at our board review courses (we continually sought out the best of the best in our field) and the person that most deeply connected with the widest range of medical students.

Medical students and residents in particular gravitated to his unique mix of warmth, insight, wisdom, humor, inspiration, support, honesty and lack of pretense. Lee stayed in touch with them as long as they wanted or needed.

Lee loved to lead or be a part of retreats that fostered this type of heart centered connection. Simply, Lee loved well.

Lipsenthal with wife Kathy Chang and children, June 2011 trip to China
Lee and I shared the love of music. Few things were more fun than sharing a great show with Lee. More than anyone else that I have met before or since, Lee KNEW popular music. His iPod contained tens of thousand songs at his ready disposal. We would go into a city together and Lee would find the list of popular music available and tell me which acts were hot and which were not. He loved rock and roll and schmoozed with many of the world's top acts.

He knew managers and roadies. Lee adored the Beatles and recently completed a sacred pilgrimage to Liverpool to the spend a few days deeply immersed in the early history of the Beatles.

What else can I say. Lee filled a unique place and role in my life and across the realm of alternative, holistic, integrative and natural medicine.

Physician was a small part of who he was, but he altered the lives of so many docs who encountered his unique being that he truly functioned as a healer of healers.

Victoria Maizes, MD, Executive Director
Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine

My deepest condolences to Kathy, Will, Cheryl, Florence and Jerry on their loss.

I first met Lee in 1997. I was preparing to leave my position at Kaiser Permanente in Santa Rosa, California and sought counsel with integrative medicine-minded pioneers in the bay area. Lee responded to my phone call with sincere welcome. He invited me to meet with him, encouraged me to pursue my passion, and asked me to serve as a physician on the week-long Dean Ornish retreat he was organizing.  All these gracious overtures were deeply appreciated and gave me hope that I would find a new expression of medicine. 

Not long after, I moved to Tucson, but over the years, Lee and I met at conferences when we were both speaking. He openly shared his own journey to creating the Finding Balance in a Medical Life following his inner integrity.  Ultimately what Lee provided to me in 1997, he gave to thousands of other physicians, a role model, and a firm conviction that medicine should and could be different.   There is a line in a Mary Oliver poem that I love "When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom; taking the world into my arms."  Lee Lipsenthal lived his life that way. He encouraged us all to do the same.  Let us take him up on the challenge as we mourn our loss.


Dean Ornish, MD, Founder
Preventive Medicine Research Institute

Lee was medical director for the Preventive Medicine Research Institute for many years, involved in training hospitals, 50 of them around the country, in how to use the program. He worked on coverage with insurers, taught and lectured with residents. He later had a program for physicians, offered through the AMA, about how to become re-enchanted with medicine.

What makes Lee special was he combined the best of the left and right brain. He was very smart and extremely emotionally intelligent. He had a way of connecting to people deeply and immediately with people. That's really what healing is all about.


Ornish also sent the following extracts from a forward to Lipsenthal's forthcoming book, Enjoy Every Sandwich.

In this extraordinary book, Dr. Lee Lipsenthal shares his transformative journey with us.  Deeply personal, yet universal in scope, he eloquently describes how accepting death is intensely clarifying, helping us to understand, to really know in every cell, every fiber of our being, what matters and what does not; how we want to spend our precious time, doing what, and with whom.  It's not just about how to die peacefully and gracefully; more important, he describes how to live fully. 

Lipsenthal, during June 2011 China trip
As he writes, "Being fully alive, I discovered, has nothing to do with the presence or absence of disease."  He describes how compassion and forgiveness don't excuse or condone what another person may have done to hurt us, but it frees us from suffering-right here, right now.  And when we can apply that same compassion to ourselves-shining a light in the darkness, letting go of anger and judgment-then it frees us and everyone else around us.  When a person may have only a year to live, why waste any time holding on to hurts and grievances?  And then we realize, "Why should we, either?"

Making every act sacred is what enables us to more fully enjoy life, or as Lee writes, "to enjoy every sandwich." What Lee leaves us with is the profound understanding that we have more choice than we may realize in how we live, and if we live this life well, the next one will take care of itself.  This book is Lee's gift to the world, love made manifest. 


Vic Sierpina, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, Past President
Consortium of Academic Health Centers for Integrative Medicine
WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor in Integrative Medicine  
Professor, Family Medicine

For Lee:

Like the shine of his head
His kindness glowed
From heart to heart
His love always showed

Karen Lawson, MD, Past President
American Holistic Medical Association
Facilitator, Finding Balance in a Medical Life
Director of Health Coaching, Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing

Lee was one of the most authentic and loving human beings I was ever blessed to know, let alone to work with.  Because of that, I could be truly and completely myself, in all aspects, when with Lee.  In a given afternoon, we could discuss everything from holistic medicine to rock music; from parapsychology research to stress management; and from shamanic experiences to travel and food. 

I feel so fortunate to have known Lee for this last decade and to have had the opportunity to work (and play) with him.  When he came to Minneapolis to work, I always tried to schedule some musical outing that he could do with my husband Marty and myself, as Marty also loved to spend time with Lee.

One afternoon, when I was training to become a facilitator of Lee's Finding Balance in a Medical Life program, he led us in a meditative imagery exercise in which we were to hold the question "What does my heart most need, at this time in my life, to find joy?"  Every time I closed my eyes to begin the exercise, there was a small black and white puppy just sitting there.  I'd pop my eyes back open in surprise and disbelief, and Lee would just be looking at me with that sly, knowing smile on his face.  I'd close my eyes and try again, repeating the same experience three times.  When I finally told Lee what I was experiencing, he just laughed, and affirmed that, of course, I needed to trust what was in my heart!  Marty and I had had a dog, years before, and it hadn't gone well.  With me being gone so often, the dog didn't get the attention it needed and tore the house apart.  We had never contemplated trying it again.  I tried to deny this meditation insight, especially when I shared it with Marty and he said, "No way!"   Not matter what I tried, it just wouldn't go away. 

Finally, one Saturday, some weeks later, I took my daughter Lily, then 10 years old and thrilled at the idea of a puppy, pet ‘browsing.'  Before the end of the day, much to Marty's chagrin, we found just the puppy from my vision-a 10 week old, black and white, female Pom-poo, that Lily immediately named Oreo.  She came home with us that day (and won over Marty in about 30 minutes.)  I called Lee that night, telling him it was all his fault.  He laughed until he cried, and reassured me that it was just as it should be.  Well, Oreo continues to be the light of my life, and I can't imagine her not being part of the family.  Lee's trusting of his own intuitions and instincts certainly gave me reassurance that I needed to trust my own-and he was right.

The only consolation I feel as I miss his physical presence in this world is the absolute surety I have that he is now a powerful ally in the realm of Spirit, and that he will continue to advance healing and to move the evolution of human consciousness ahead through his presence there.  Lee, I love and miss you.  Thank you, my friend.  I trust you will still find Rock and Roll wherever you are now, or you will bring Rock and Roll with you!


Dave Rakel, MD, Director of Integrative Medicine

University of Wisconsin School of Medicine
When I think of Lee, I simply smile knowing that he did it right.

Although I will miss him very much, I know he lived life fully and was able to touch and experience beauty in many ways. He was so willing to share those experiences with others through his gifted teaching and to encourage a turning towards life's treasures.

Lee Lipsenthal taught us the importance of human connection, balance, self-reflection, love and that life is "sweeet." There is no telling how far his positive influence will carry on through the many lives he touched so deeply.

A deep bow to a wonderful human being who helped define an evolving field of health creation and the importance of first exploring this within ourselves.

Wendy Warner, MD: Past President
American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine

This was first posted on this page on the site of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine by Wendy Warner, MD, ABIHM, a past president of the organization. It is republished here with permission. Warner notes that it was written "with input from others."
It is with a very heavy heart that we announce the passing of Lee Lipsenthal, MD, ABIHM.  Lee was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2009; it returned several months ago.  He was surrounded by family when he crossed over on Monday, September 19, 2011.

Lee Lipsenthal, MD (credit: Ricki Cooke)
Lee had a conventional medical training, with an undergraduate degree from George Washington, medical school at Howard University, residency at Medical College of Pennsylvania.   During his training, though, he became interested in prevention of heart disease, rather than just treatment, and he spent the early part of his career in Pennsylvania developing treatment programs for patients with heart disease and those at risk for heart disease.  He went on to become internationally known for his research work with Dr Dean Ornish.

More recently, Lee had been an author and educator, working in the area of practitioner wellness.  His first book, Finding Balance in a Medical Life, was the basis of many workshops and talks given to medical students, residents and physicians in practice, helping them find their own health and renew their passion for working in the medical field.  Lee was a member of the American Medical Association's Physician Wellness Committee and a sought-after lecturer and keynote speaker.

The American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine was fortunate enough to have him as a board member and president.  It was through Lee's leadership and amazing connections that the board weathered a difficult time of growth; it can be said that without him, the Board and its certification process might not exist today.

This description, though, gives only the bare outlines of a complicated, full life.  Lee was, to many people, a guiding light.  He showed us how to be our best selves, reminding us to look within, know ourselves, take a deep breath.  He reminded us to live fully and laugh a lot.  He was full of contradictions: his meditation music was classic rock, and he much preferred a good margarita or glass of wine to a handful of vitamins.  Once he joined the board, we were sure to dance together often (and he didn't dance like a stiff white guy!).  None of us got enough of him and yet plenty of him.  When Lee spoke with you, you had his undivided attention.  And then he'd make sure you all had a good belly laugh.

Our board had a conference call scheduled on the day Lee first got his cancer diagnosis, literally moments after he got the phone call.  It was shocking.  Yet, we had the opportunity to watch as he navigated this part of his life and it was amazing to see.  Lee was truly at peace with dying.  He had always said "It's a good day to die" as a way of reminding us to live fully; when we expressed our concern for him, his answer was "it is what it is".  Lee was ok with what was unfolding; I think his only concern was for the loved ones he was leaving behind.  His teaching in this past year was all about living with dying and holding death in a balance with a full life.

Perhaps the best way to remember Lee is in his own words.  I suggest that you watch the trailer for his upcoming book, Enjoy Every Sandwich, due out in November. \"Enjoy Every Sandwich\"

One of Lee's favorite expressions was "sweet!"  Indeed, that's what it was, having him as part of our lives.

If you have a comment or memory you would like to share, it will be included here or in a follow-up post.

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