When I met Peter Alan Lefkow some 28 years ago, I knew then that he was not only a doctor, he was my friend. He had a special gift of connecting with his patients on a deeply personal level. Somehow what he had to give was so genuine and powerful that it broke through to your deepest level of acceptance and awareness. We were both associated with the same university, and even though we traveled in different professional circles, his deep respect for me as a colleague inspired and invited me to a higher level of excellence. I had been referred to him by the mother of my son, who was always very diligent about researching such things. She insisted that he should become my doctor because even at that time in the earlier part of his career he was known as "the Doctors' Doctor."
As busy and rushed as he was, he always gave the best of what defined him as special and committed. For the most part, my basic treatment was for high blood pressure, until I had been with him for almost 17 years. I was not a very good patient. I practiced denial, and was slow to make appointments. Then after years of denial, while driving my son from a hockey game, I suffered a severe stroke. Somehow we managed to drive directly to the medical center and I was rushed into the emergency room. The attendants contacted Dr. Lefkow, and managed to stop the stroke. It seemed almost in a flash that Dr. Lefkow arrived. He was angry with me because of my neglect. He admonished me. "You are so lucky. What happened to you is usually fatal." Then he said, "You are going to see me a lot. From now on, you and I are going to be the best of buddies." He remained true to this promise. and I have enjoyed my life and my career partly because of his steadfast insistance, presence, and support. I always remembered this moment when I reflected on his initials while sitting in the examination room surrounded by his degrees on the wall. PAL formed the perfect acronym for what he was to all of us.
He helped my son through rough times of depression and personal struggles. Dr. Lefkow always remained a source that has been a comfort and a joy.
Above all, Peter Lefkow was a gentleman. He cared deeply about us and about all of his patients. But we were distinct individuals in the context of a large and highly successful practice. A few years ago at a routine checkup, the cardiogram indicated that I had developed atrial fibrillation. He came into the room and embraced me. "I am so sorry that this has developed, but you are going to be all right. Not to worry."
This past summer when I met with him during a major checkup, I sat across from him after I came out of the examination room into his office. His manner was calm and confident. He was upbeat and talked about the future management of my condition. He set certain goals and landmarks for the Fall. I was scheduled for a stress test in August, but it was later cancelled. "We'll re-schedule in September," his nurse assured me.
Now, Dr. Lefkow has suddenly passed out of our lives. Sudden for those of us who did not realize that he was gravely ill with cancer. That Dr. Lefkow, despite his own ongoing struggle, remained such a remarkable physician to his patients speaks to the inner strength and commitment of this remarkable man.
I went to his office to see his nurse Nuria to pick up my charts. Nuria was the extension of Peter Lefkow. Together they formed a perfect caring practice, and she was always the connection that kept us going. The phone rang while I was there and I overheard Nuria saying, "You know how strong he was. He remained in control of himself." She went on to say that on Sunday evening when it became clear that nothing else could be done, he acknowledged this and quietly went to sleep and was gone.
Yet, even now I feel his presence and his quiet assurance. So many lives were enriched by his being in the world. We are all deeply saddened by our loss, the emptiness of his absence in our lives.