Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

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A BI-WEEKLY PUBLICATION FROM THE CEDARS-SINAI CHIEF OF STAFF June 29, 2018 | Archived Issues

Meetings and Events

Rock for Research
July 8

4th Annual GI Board Exam Conference
Aug. 11-12

Cedars-Sinai Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound for Comprehensive Stroke Care
Aug. 15-17

These events and more can be found in the medical staff calendar on the Cedars-Sinai website.


Grand Rounds


Upcoming CME Conferences


Milestones

Do you know of a significant event in the life of a medical staff member? Please let us know, and we'll post these milestones in Medical Staff Pulse. Also, feel free to submit comments on milestones, and we'll post the comments in the next issue.

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Share Your News

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Michael Lill, MD: 1959-2018

Michael Lill, MD

The patient was worried. Diagnosed with two life-threatening blood disorders, he faced a steep learning curve about his illnesses and had to make head-spinning treatment decisions, including whether to undergo a bone marrow transplant.

Luck, he said, was on his side when Michael Lill, MD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Blood and Marrow Transplant Program, took over his case in 2014.

"Dr. Lill saved my life, period," said the patient, Kevin McDevitt, 35. "He cured me."

Not only was Lill a "brilliant physician," McDevitt said, "he also was a great human being who guided me through the whole process, until I understood every aspect of my illnesses."

Lill, who served as medical director of the transplant program for more than 20 years and is referred to by colleagues as a "born teacher," died June 19 of appendix cancer. He was 58. Lill was beloved by many across Cedars-Sinai who recalled his generous spirit and his deep sense of commitment to his patients.

"Dr. Lill was an enormously compassionate physician and devoted advocate for patients who are facing the most difficult decisions," said Robert A. Figlin, MD, director of the Division of Hematology Oncology and deputy director of the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. "Michael’s humanity is reflected in how he tended to all of the needs of patients and their families throughout their cancer journey."

Establishing the Transplant Program

Lill, an Australia native, joined the Cedars-Sinai faculty in September 1997 and established the transplant program. He initially wore a number of hats, including program director, attending physician and administrator, said Patricia Van Strien, RN, the department’s longtime clinical program coordinator. Today, the Cedars-Sinai program is one of the largest in the Los Angeles area. Its staff members have completed nearly 2,200 stem cell and bone marrow transplant procedures and perform about 120 transplants a year.

In addition to building a multidisciplinary team that includes physicians, nurses, transplant coordinators, pharmacists, dietitians, psychologists, social workers, and occupational and physical therapists, Lill brought the allogeneic transplant procedure to Cedars-Sinai, one of his greatest achievements, said Steven Lim, MD, Lill’s longtime colleague. In that procedure—utilized when a patient’s own blood cells are too diseased to use as replacement cells—relatives or strangers serve as stem cell donors.

The bloodless bone marrow transplant program at Cedars-Sinai—initiated by Lill in 1997 after getting his first referral of a Jehovah’s Witness leukemia patient—was another major achievement, colleagues said. Witnesses do not accept blood transfusions—the standard of care for transplantation—for religious reasons. The program is one of the few in the country that offers the "bloodless" procedure to Witnesses with lymphoma, multiple myeloma and other blood cancers. Witnesses from around the world have sought Lill’s expertise and 75 have undergone stem cell transplants at the medical center.

"I'm a strong believer in patient autonomy," Lill explained in a 2008 Los Angeles Times interview. “These patients wouldn't otherwise be helped. The world is full of people who hold completely different beliefs than yours. You can still respect and treat them."

Celebration of Life Luncheon

And celebrate them. In 1998, Lill launched the first Cedars-Sinai Celebration of Life luncheon—an annual event honoring blood and bone marrow transplant survivors and their families, who gather for shared stories and heartfelt reunions with physicians, nurses and other team members involved in their care. Over the years, he also hosted staff retreats and parties at his San Fernando Valley home.

"He loved life," Lim said. "He surrounded himself with an incredible number of friends and colleagues, with whom he talked about history, science, poetry and philosophy." An avid martial arts enthusiast, Lill also practiced Jeet Kune Do, Brazilian jiujitsu and kickboxing. He earned two black belts and a brown belt, and he ran in three marathons.

Appendix Cancer in 2007

Lill was diagnosed with appendix cancer in late 2007. His disease went into remission after surgery and six months of chemotherapy. It recurred in 2016. True to form, his own cancer journey provided insights into the needs of his patients, adding an even deeper level of empathy, his colleagues said. Lill shared his experiences and feelings through a personal blog in his typically open and honest way, they said.

"I am focusing on trying to enjoy myself as much as possible for as long as possible and to make as many memories as possible, even if the beneficiary of those memories is not going to be me," he wrote in a Jan. 23, 2017, entry.

Born in Australia

Lill was born on Aug. 3, 1959, in Adelaide, Australia. He earned his medical degree and completed his residencies in Australia before joining the bone marrow transplant program at UCLA in 1989. He joined Cedars-Sinai in 1997. In addition to a keen devotion to his practice, he served on multiple committees at the medical center and on national boards. He also was a committed teacher who encouraged his staff members to seek higher degrees and helped them attain them.

"He was a shooting star," said Van Strien, who is among those he encouraged. "I feel honored that our paths crossed."

Lill is survived by his wife, Gay Crooks, MD, a UCLA stem cell researcher and pediatric bone marrow transplant specialist, whom he met while the two studied medicine in Perth, Australia. Lill also is survived by their two children, Georgia Lill, a UCLA medical student, and Alexander Lill, a filmmaker.

Donations in memory of Michael Lill, MD, may be directed to the Blood & Marrow Transplant Program at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. Visit the Giving program website, or make checks payable to Cedars-Sinai, with “In memory of Michael Lill, MD” in the memo line. Mail them to Robert Figlin, MD, Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Institute, 8700 Beverly Blvd., Room 2416, Los Angeles, CA 90048.