Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Hey Coz [Brian Costello],

One final Jim story- right now I am packing for my trip to NJ for Jim's funeral, and it reminds me of a few things.First, I woke up at 4am to make sure I had time to get everything done. This is atypical for me, but it's very much the kind of thing Jim would do. When I spoke to him a week ago, he mentioned that he was getting up at 4:30 so that he would be able to the gym before work.Second, Jim and I roomed on the road quite often, so I was more familiar with his packing habits than I probably should be. Jim HATED with a passion to check baggage. So even if we were going to a conference for a week, he would manage to get everything he needed into an overhead bag.I was the opposite- I tended to push the 100# limit with my bags. Somehow Jim would manage to squeeze in his suits for presentations, shirts, gym clothes, computer, etc into just 1 bag.Here is the funny part though- his other obsession was Clif Bars. In all of the stories about Jim, everyone talks about his boundless energy, and perhaps wonder what his secret was. The answer was Clif Bars. Jim always had a stash with him. I'm not talking about 1-2 bars. He bought a bike messenger bag that he would bring to work with him everyday. This was so he would always have a copy of Preston and Shapiro (and EMG book he had memorized) and about 20 Clif Bars with him. Jim was rarely late for meetings, but there were a few occasions we would have to stop at the local Walgreens so that he could resupply himself with Clif Bars. My apartment in Chicago had a more secure mail delivery than his apartment, so periodically I would receive packages for Jim to restock his Clif Bar inventory.Anyway, I am thinking of Jim now as I pack, because I am struggling to get all my stuff together for the funeral into a small overnight bag. Somehow, Jim was able to pack for a week at a time, and still have room in his luggage for about 50 Clif Bars. Jim's favorite meeting was American College of Sports Medicine meeting. If you asked him, he would say it was because of the quality of the speakers or that it's the first place he met Joel Press. On some level, though, I think it was because it was the only meeting that was sponsored by power bar suppliers, so that he was able to restock himself mid-trip.


Jim McLean tribute
by Gary P. Chimes

“I found out that Jim McLean passed away yesterday. I have been struggling to understand how to come to terms with his death. Losing any one important in your life is devastating. With Jim, though, it was as if I lost several people. Jim has been my closest friend over the past 5 years. He was also my athletic training partner, as we trained together for an Ironman triathlon, amongst other things. He has also been my closest colleague, as we have trained together both through residency and fellowship, and were starting our life as faculty in parallel positions. He was also my partner academically, as we shared so many academic projects together that I lost count. He was also my clinical companion, as we learned how to manage patients in parallel. Losing a friend is tough. Losing someone who was essentially 5 of your closest friends at the same time has just been heartbreaking.

I think one of the reasons I’ve struggled so much to write about Jim is that I’ve been unable to separate the different facets of our interactions from one another. This is my third attempt at eulogizing Jim. Each time I start, it descends into an incoherent mess. So I will have to break it down, into a systematic structure to organize my thoughts. You know, the way Jim would have.

Jim the friend.
If I had to describe Jim to someone who has never met him before, probably the best analogy I could make is that Jim was like the world’s friendliest pitbull. He had a transcendent tenderness to him, but he was also the most intense person I ever met. He never did anything half-assed. One of our buddies from residency called him “110%”, which as apt a nickname as one could give someone.

A few anecdotes that highlight Jim: The first bonding experience the residents at Kessler had together was a company picnic a few months into our training together. We decided to have a spontaneous game of football. Jim didn’t have a change of clothes, so he played in his work clothes. By the end of the game, we had to stop because of inclement weather, but a part of it was that everyone’s muscles were exhausted. Except for Jim- while his clothes were tattered and muddy, Jim was fine. He also had an intense linebacker stare that would have put Mike Singletary to shame.

Another favorite Jim story of mine- playing poker. As residents, we had a semi-regular poker game. The first time we played, Jim was painfully awful. I remember him trying to bluff an opponent who was showing a straight flush (and who, in fact, did have a straight flush). Needless to say, he got cleaned out. The next time I went to Jim’s apartment a few weeks later, I noticed on his bookshelf a copy of “Poker for Dummies.” The pages were dog-eared, he had post-it notes sticking out, and words were underlined. The next time we played, he either won or came in second place (I think he actually came in second place. He would have won, but Adam Schindelheim had recently learned how to mind-control Mike Mehnert, which was too big of advantage for Jim to overcome).

Another favorite Jim story- Halloween. We were going into the city for a Halloween party in 2005. Neither Jim nor I had costumes, so we needed to make a last minute run for costumes. We decided to go the Sports Authority- somehow it made sense at the time.
We decided to go as recreational games, so I was a tetherball pole, and Jim went as a dartboard. We wanted to be functional games, so I rigged a mechanism for people to play tetherball on me without strangling myself. Jim, on the other hand, was simpler about things. He wore the dart-board like a necklace, wore a pair of goggles, and that was it. He invited (insisted really) that people use him as a dart board, with real darts with metal tips. His friend Brad and I warned him repeatedly that this was probably not the smartest thing for someone to do, but Jim insisted. By the end of the night, he had multiple welts and puncture injuries from what was a pretty fun night.

That was the fun part of Jim. There was also the supportive aspect to Jim. I know that many of his friends have dealt with some pretty tragic situations, and to say that Jim was supportive is an understatement. Other people say they will do anything to help a friend, but Jim, as he did with everything in his life, took it to another level.

Probably the best example that sticks out for me is a relatively recent one. Last May, Jim and I were rooming together for the American College of Sports Medicine meeting. This was an extremely busy meeting for both Jim and I, but especially Jim. We were getting ready to speak in front of a national audience for the first time, and we needed to do a lot of preparatory work. In addition, Jim was in the process of trying to close the deal on a house he was purchasing in Kansas. He was doing the kind of work that would overwhelm several people, let alone one.
While this was going on, I was starting to have misgivings about my upcoming wedding. I was scheduled to get married 6 weeks after the meeting, but I was concerned that even though my fiancée Danielle and I very much loved one another, we were having difficulty communicating. I had not discussed my misgivings with anyone before, and the thought of calling things off so close the actual wedding terrified me, but I knew that I needed to speak to someone.

Amongst Jim’s many strengths, he was one of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve ever known. Despite not having time for even a 5 minute conversation, he listened to me talk for several hours, into the wee hours of the morning. When I was done pouring my heart out, he had very simple advice- “talk to some of your other friends. Let them know what you are thinking and feeling. By the time you finish talking to them, you will know what to do. You don’t need to do this alone.” It was classic Jim. Later, he confided he had some reservations about whether I was going to be fulfilled in my marriage, but he gave me the tools to discover what I needed on my own.

Up until 24 hours ago, the decision to call of my marriage to Danielle was the most emotionally wrenching experience I’ve ever had. Jim, probably more than anyone else, helped me get through what a very tough experience. I know his other friends have similar experiences, many more important in the big scheme of things.
As an aside, he kicked ass on his presentations later that week.

Jim the training partner.

As mentioned above, one of the first bonding experiences we had as residents was playing football together at a Kessler picnic. After we finished playing, we sat around, gorging on copious amounts of grilled meats and Italian ices. I brought up the idea of doing a triathlon together. It was a throw-away comment- while I sincerely wanted to do a triathlon with some of the guys, I wasn’t planning on making too much of an ordeal about it. This was my first experience encountering what I would call the “McLean treatment.” Over the next few weeks, Jim had formulated a plan for the two of us and our friend Casey to do a team Ironman (Casey swimming, me biking, and Jim running) as a fund-raiser for the local hospital for children with disabilities. Anyone who has ever interacted with Jim knows that “over-the-top” is not sufficient for describing how much Jim dedicates to a project when he commits to something. He had a 3 ring binder that mapped out our training program for the next 6 months, down to the minute. He also built a giant cardboard thermometer to show how we were progressing on the fundraiser. The triathlon also highlighted Jim’s toughness. Jim had struggled for years with pretty severe patellofemoral syndrome. Jim’s a muscular guy, but he had a notable lack of bulk along his right VMO muscle. His knee began to act up midway through his training, and he wasn’t sure that he was going to make it. He eventually developed a system of taping his knee that allowed his knee to track properly, and the triathlon team figured out a way to make sure he had spare tape available to make it through the race.

I am attaching a few pics from that race. The first is of Casey, Jim and I, in our official “Lucky Chick” race gear (we needed long sleeve shirts for the race, and Walmart was selling women’s sweatshirts in the $3 bin). The second is of Jim taping his knee mid-run. The third picture is Casey, Jim, and I celebrating at the finish line. The last picture is probably the most classic of Jim- during the last 10 miles of the race, he made friends with a guy he never met before on the course, and the two of them motivated each other to make it through the marathon. Jim finished the last mile ahead of him (also, classic Jim, he had another gear kicking to the finish), but he tracked this guy down for a photo because he wanted to share the experience with him. Classic Jim.

There are so many similar stories that pop into mind. One that stands out for me was the Philadelphia triathlon a few years later. Jim had not registered in time (another trait that, to be fair, was also classic Jim. He actually did have a few flaws. Not many, but a few), but I was racing, as was my older brother Mike and our friend from residency Kyle. Jim was on call at Kessler (which is in the northern part of NJ) the night before, but he drove down post-call to cheer Kyle, Mike, and I. The race was a really fun one, but I am not a runner. By the time I had finished the bike, the temperature was already well into 90s, with Philadelphia humidity. I was exhausted, and was starting to walk. That was until I saw that Jim had made the 2 hour drive down just to cheer us on. The picture below is me getting a second wind after seeing Jim. It may be hard to see, but there is a little thought bubble over the head of the guy I am passing that says “where the hell did that fat guy come from?”

One final Jim training story. When we were fellows together at RIC in Chicago, the staff at RIC had a competition using pedometers. The staff was split into teams of 4, and the goal was to see which team would walk the most steps. Within a few weeks, it became apparent that Jim’s team was unbeatable. While a typical person might walk 5000 steps, and a motivated person might walk 10,000 steps, Jim was regularly clocking in over 30,000 steps. Jim walked constantly. We were reviewing MRIs, and Jim would walk and look at the MRIs overhead. We were observing injections, and Jim would walk in place in the fluoro suite. We would go to grab a bit for dinner, and Jim would eat while walking. He was far and away the most productive stepper, even more than a few of our colleagues who were training for the Chicago marathon. Even on the day of the marathon itself, while Jim didn’t have the most steps, it was close. You never wanted to compete with Jim if willpower was a limiting factor.

Jim the colleague.
Jim and I were fortunate enough to be part of a very special group of guys in residency. I say guys in the literal sense- through the magic of the residency match process, Kessler had 10 male residents. Early on, we realized that collectively we shared a pretty common set of goals. We had heard stories about how residency classes are often close with one another, but then when push came to shove, people would become competitive and the friendship would become compromised. Early on, we all collectively made a pact that no matter what else happened, friendship always came first. Jim embodied that ideology more than anyone else. For the next 3 years, the 10 of us studied together, vacationed together, skied together, went cycling together (to clarify- bicycles, not motor cycles), and grew together. From an educational experience, this was an incredible experience, as we collectively learned from one another. Clearly, the best teachers and the people I’ve learned the most from in my training were my fellow Kessler residents Class of 2006. When one of us learned a mnemonic for the different causes of myokymia, we all did. When one of us realized that a myokymic waveform sounded like the guitar rift from “One” by Metallica, we all did. When one of us came up with a way of classifying the 60 different causes of peripheral neuropathy, we all did.

As was always the case, though, Jim took the concept of selflessness to another level. When Jim and I were applying for fellowships, we traded notes with another. We were similar candidates, and there was the very real risk that by sharing information we might lose out on a fellowship that we desired. Again, before the process started, we made a pledge that friendship came first. As it worked out, that principle was put to the test. Jim and I both wanted to do a fellowship at RIC as our first choice, and we didn’t know whether they had 1 or 2 slots available. I was with Jim when I heard that I was going to be offered a slot. I am still blown away by Jim’s reaction. Eventually, it would turn out that Jim and I both went to RIC, but we didn’t know this at the time. In fact, my getting offered a slot at RIC dramatically reduced the chance that Jim was going to get his first choice fellowship. You would have never known that, though, from Jim’s reaction. His reaction was that of pure friendship- a warm congratulations and genuine excitement that things had worked out for me. I doubt that I would have been as magnanimous had the situation been reversed. Jim was different that way, though. It is a clichĂ© to say when someone dies, but he was truly the single most selfless person I’ve ever known.

Jim, the academic and clinical colleague.
Of all the many ways that I will miss Jim, I think this is the domain that will be the hardest for me. Jim and I have trained together for so long and so closely with one another, I legitimately do not know where my clinical thought process ends and Jim’s begins. He was a great, great clinician- all the warmth and humanity he brought to his personal interactions, the emotional intelligence he brought to his friendships, the structure, organization, and logic he brought to his athletic training- it all culminated in him being one of the most brilliant, reflective, and original thinkers I’ve ever known. Ever since I started teaching residents, I tried to make it clear where my ideas came from- this is how I learned the ankle jerk from Pat Foye, this is how Paul Lento taught me the slump-sit exam, this is how Chris Plastaras taught me to test coronal plane strength, etc. Every day, every time I treat a patient, I think about all the gifted mentors who have taught me, and it is like they are part of my life everyday. Jim is at another level, though. I probably quote Jim at least once a day. Everything I know about practicing medicine, I know from learning with Jim. When we were studying for the boards together, we worked with one another from 5am until bedtime, usually around 10 pm. Every time we learned a new clinical pearl, we made sure the other one learned from the experience. Even this past year, as we embarked as attendings in different systems, we would talk several times a month, just bouncing cases off one another.

Jim the Physiatrist.
In the early drafts of Jim’s obituary that popped on the net this morning, they referred to Jim as a podiatrist from Kansas. This is fairly typical for physiatry- most people are not familiar with the specialty, and do not know exactly what a physiatrist does. At the annual AAPM&R mentor, our friend and mentor Joel Press gave a presidential address titled “Physiatry 2007: Who we are and where are we going?” JP has many messages in that address, but one thing I took away from the lecture was that on some level it doesn’t matter what you call yourself, it matters who you are and what you do. To me, a physiatrist is someone who can assess someone’s strengths, assess someone’s limitations, and inspire them through thought and action to better themselves to levels they had never seen before. Nobody has ever embodied that spirit more that Jim McLean. I’m going to miss him.”

To an Athlete Dying Young
By A.E. Housman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's

Submitted by Sharon Gohari, MD

“It’s difficult to choose which memory best captures Jim. I have so many, ranging from Jim teaching me the proper method to test for shoulder impingement to Jim gushing to me about his new girlfriend, Jen, when we accidentally bumped into each other at the MCA last winter. But there is one memory in particular that I would like to share about Jim that I believe encompasses the incredible person that he was and will be remembered as.

It was Halloween of 2006. Ai and Amin, Pam and Jan, and Mila and I had decided to attend the MRFF Halloween Party at Goose Island. A couple of us even dressed-up--Pam and Jan in a dirndl and lederhosen, respectively, and I had been original enough to put on a witch’s hat. The party started out quietly with the usual—a couple of drinks and gossip about RIC. Then Jim showed up. We all knew Jim, but not very well yet. It was still near the beginning of the academic year, and we were probably more in awe of Jim than anything.

Jim had also decided to dress-up . . . as a human dartboard. With real darts. Of course, Jim had also brought swimming goggles for protection (he used his hands to protect other sensitive regions when Mila took a turn at throwing the darts). None of us knew what to think. Who would ever devise a Halloween costume that entails sharp metal objects being thrown at you by inebriated people? When I asked him if he was afraid of getting stuck, he just smiled and said, “I’ll be alright.” But that was Jim. He trusted everyone, but he also liked living on the edge. Jim was also the first to volunteer to sing karaoke, and eventually had the whole RIC crew sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Our evening ended up with multiple costume exchanges, including Mila in Jim’s dartboard, and an infamous picture of Jim wearing Pam’s blond braided wig. I was amazed that he could so easily walk into a place where he knew so few people, and walk out knowing almost the entire room. But Jim that had ease about him—he was friendly and disarming, and most importantly, he was genuine, a quality everyone who met him could immediately appreciate.

With every passing, there are tears, there is sorrow, and there is the inevitable question of ‘why’. Jim was one of those people whose light burned so bright in life, that the world is that much darker in his absence. We will miss you, Jim.”

Sharon Gohari, MD

"Thanks, Jim. Thanks for teaching us more about hard work, desire, perseverance, and dedication than we could ever teach you. Thanks, for being a great doctor, a great physiatrist and a great person. Thanks, for taking time to always help any of us with whatever we needed ( especially riding your bike across Kansas and Missouri with me). Thanks for being a great friend and colleague who would always share your ideas and knowledge with us. Thanks for being such a great eater and sharing hundreds of meals with us. Thanks for finishing whatever we didn’t finish. Thanks for pushing us all to walk more steps to keep up with you. Thanks for sharing your passion for life. Thanks for so many things, but thanks most for making our lives more fulfilled and enriched because you were our friend and we will never forget you. Your spirit will always be with us. Thanks for making a difference in this world."


Jim and Marlena

Marlena and Justin's wedding

Jimmy, Justin, their parents, and Marlena

Jim with Max (Marlena and Justin's dog)

“I'm sitting in the Northwestern Memorial Hospital anesthesia pain clinic, where the news of Jim's death was just today announced to the residents and staff here. Jim spent only a limited amount of time here in this clinic during his fellowship last year, but he clearly had an impact on all that came in contact with him. The anesthesia resident working in clinic today gushes about how much time he spent teaching her a comprehensive physical examination, which she continues to put into practice. People here still talk about his EMG lectures, one year later. His knowledge and enthusiasm were obvious to all. Probably my fondest, and most representative, memories of Jim were his ability to remain calm and laid-back, and take all the time in the world for clinical teaching on a day he was supposed to give a lecture that was only half-finished. I never figured out how, but he always got it all done, the lecture went great... and he maintained his even, smiling disposition the entire time. Somehow, he was the perfect mix of intensity and relaxation all in one.”

Oscar Wille, MD
former RIC resident,
and current pain fellow

"I just returned after attending Jim's.funeral .It was a sad farewell ,at the same time a tribute to a remarkable life. It was attended by people from all over U.S.A.; people who's lives were touched by Jim one way or other. His father offered the euology which was emotional and fitting tribute to a wonderful young man.

On my flight to New Jersey , I read the web page postings. It is amazing that at such an young age, Jim was able to touch so many lives so profoundly. He was able to make an impression on people who have known him only briefly.

I am going to give a different perspective about Jim. I am the chairman of the dept of Rehab. Med. at the Kansas University. During the last 6 months ,I watched with admiration the beginning a leader, teacher, clinician and a rising star in our field. Two yrs ago, University Hospital decided to start a spine center. The leadership of it was offered to our dept. and I was asked to recruit a medical director. I contacted a friend of mine at RIC and he recommended Jim McLean. He said "don't worry that he is just coming out of the fellowship, he is very unique and full of potentials". I was hesitant because this job involved getting neurosurgeons, ortho. neurology. anesthesia psych all work together. I called Joel DeLisa and he said he is probably the best resident he ever trained. Then I called Joel Press and he said he is best fellow he ever trained.I said wow, here a past and present president of our academy and leaders of two prestigious programs in our field giving such a great endorsement. So, I invited him for the interview. First person to interview him was our spine surgeon. He came out of the interview and told me " don't let this guy get away".We hired him outbidding four other university programs.

When he joined us in July, we had the floor plans and an operational plan for the spine ctr ."Mr. 110%" wanted this to be the best spine center in the country. He decided to take a team to visit different spine ctrs in the country. He adopted good aspect from these, talked to numerous people and completely redid the floor plan .in the process, he made everyone happy; even the surgoens didn't have any complaints. I watched him conduct the spine meetings, a good listner,calm confident at the same time firm. After the meeting he often asks "how did I do;did I step on any toes, how could I do better ".I did not have any suggestions other than patting on his shoulders and say "a great job "I could not believe that a 33 yr old rookie can shine like this with all the politics and egoisms prevalent in the universities.

As teacher he made a remarkable impact. He made what happened to be the final version of his EMG guide. He started two new conferences and an EMG practicum for PGY 2 &3 .He was made the course director for musculoskeletal teaching for the medical students. In no time he became a beloved teacher, a role model and a friend for the residents and medical students.As a clinician ,he made an impression too. Our spine surgeons decided that unless it is an outright surgical case ,all pts should be seen by Jim first.

So, in the last 6 months I witnessed achievements by an young man which I have not seen in my 35 yrs in the university systems. I watched the beginnings of a professional life full of promises ,promises to be an outstanding leader, an excellent teacher and skillful clinician. Unfortunately God had a different plan.

Jim, we already owe a lot for your 6 months at KU. We know how proud you were about the spine ctr. We will have a fitting memorial at the spine ctr such a way that any one walking through its doors, patients, staff ,students all will know who Dr. Jim McLean was ."

Posted by George Vargese M.D.
Prof. and Chairman Dept of Rehab .Med.
Kansas University School of Medicine , Kansas City, KS

“From the moment I first saw Jim when he came into RIC for his initial interview, I knew that he and I had a bond like no other. 'The Cauliflower Ear' was a universal wrestlers bond.

In the short amount of time that I knew Jim, He became more than just a colleague. Jim was the type of guy that would give you the shirt off his back or the last bite of his sandwich if you needed it. Jim was the kind of guy that always went above and beyond.

For example last year when Jim and I went to a wrestling tournament at Northwestern University to watch the World Greco Championships, he gave up his seat for a little boy that didn't want to sit on his dad's lap and was crying. Just a perfect example of Jim's acts of unselfishness.

Jim will never be forgotten and always be remembered in our hearts for all the great things he did.

I love you. May God rest your soul and may you rest in peace.”

Naseem "Naz" Khalil

"I appreciate how many residents have related how they have been taught by Jim over these past few years. I think I speak for many when I say he also taught those who were suppose to be teaching him. One day during his fellowship last year at RIC, when he was probably suppose to be doing ten other things, I casually commented to Jim how I would like to learn more about ultrasound imaging of the hip and thigh. The next thing I knew, Jim was face down on a table in the ultrasound room wearing a skimpy pair of running shorts (one's he probably ran ten miles in earlier that morning) with his face planted in a Netter anatomy textbook. Over the next hour and a half, Jim guided me and the ultrasound probe around his muscular tree-trunk of a leg so that I could get a better handle on how to do this crazy thing. When we were done, Jim had ultrasound gel dripping from his infamous gluteus maximus muscle literally down to his ankles. I th ought to myself "Boy this guy really has a passion for learning." But I also thought (as I'm sure he did as well) that he and I would really have alot of explaining to do if anyone (especially his girlfriend or my wife) walked in the room at that moment and turned the lights on. When we were done, Jim jumped up, put his pants on (I think without even wiping all the gel off) and asked "COULD I TEACH HIM ANYTHING ELSE?" No -- thanks for teaching ME my friend Jim and thanks for making me laugh when we were together.My heart-felt prayers and deepest sympathies for you and your loving friends and family."

Paul [Paul Lento MD, Spine and Sports Rehabilitation Center]

"Jim Mclean was one of the true “gentle”men of this world. I first met Jim during orientation at Northwestern at the start of my residency and his fellowship. He came up to me with a big grin and asked if I was PM&R. When I said yes, he gave a big shout out to his buddy, Gary, stuck out his hand and introduced him and Gary as the new fellows. At that early point in residency, I had no true concept of what that meant. I didn't realize what a profound impact meeting this man would have on my life.

Jim was a wonderful man, a phenomenal teacher, a patient friend; but I will remember him most as my inspirational research mentor. I had never seen myself as a researcher. I thought I would get through residency doing the bare minimum of research allowed and leave it behind forever. I think it was sometime in the fall when Jim mentioned the research he did at Kessler - a study about women runners and patellofemoral syndrome. I have always wanted to work with women athletes, so this research topic piqued my interested. I set up a meeting with Jim and told him I would be his scut monkey and help him in anyway with his project and right off the bat he corrected me and said, "No Monica, if you're interested in this, YOU are the one that’s going to do this and I'M going to help you out in anyway."

He kept his word. He handed his IRB form over to me. Told me what "IRB" stood for and met with me every single time I hit a road block - weekends, late nights, in between patients, while eating lunch, dinner or breakfast - he was always there to help me and constantly encouraged me to keep going along. They say, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” Perhaps he knew what he was doing when he took me on as his research student – I like to think that he did. What he did for me I will never be able to repay because he taught and prepared me for my lifetime. He inspired me to pursue research and to answer my own clinical questions. He showed me the nitty gritty details of staying organized and being meticulous in writing an IRB proposal. He helped me realize that answering one question just opened up the possibilities of asking 10 more questions. And he showed me how to LOVE that about research. He had pure joy in just philosophizing about all the different questions out there and how one could go about answering them. Even back then, without knowing of his untimely death, I just had to think to myself – how is this man going to find the time to do all that he wants to do. But by the end of Jim’s year at RIC, I was a believer. If anyone was going to accomplish what Jim wanted to do in his career – it was going to be someone as focused and tenacious as Jim McLean.

One of the greatest things about Jim was that he was so humble about his great value to education and the world of PM&R. He never told people what to do because he knew the right way to do things - he showed people how to do things by example. The last time I saw Jim was when he came back into Chicago for the day to be at Dr. Press’ endowed chair celebration. He had an hour before his flight and I had a few research questions to run by him. He was more than happy to talk and even stayed an extra 30 minutes to indulge my questions about applying for a fellowship. When I had realized that I was making him late for his plane, I apologized profusely and he just shrugged it off, saying that there was plenty of time left to make it to O’Hare. His nonchalant attitude about his own pressing schedule combined with his utter selflessness to help me out caused this wave of emotion over me and I just gushed out, “Jim, you are my role model and I plan on using you as that for the rest of my career, is that okay?” He just laughed me off with a sheepish grin and told me again for the millionth time that I could call him for whatever help I need - whenever.

It’s funny how life works. I had planned on using Jim as my role model for the rest of my career but I never expected that I would have to hang onto the one and a half years he gave me and the other residents at RIC and stretch that throughout my lifetime. The thing is…I can. Jim has taught me so much about how to conduct good research, how to be a great clinician, how to be a phenomenal teacher, how to be selfless, smart, dedicated, approachable, capable and responsible – it can fill my lifetime. But most of all he emphasized to me with all of his actions that if there is a will – there is a way.

Jim was the most persistent and hardest working individual I have ever met. I will never forget trying to recruit female runners at the Wrigley Field 5K with him. He was relentless in approaching women for the study and I remember being amazed for the first 5 minutes of watching him that more women didn’t shrink away from his advances. It was because Jim had such an honest aura about him. You could trust him. You knew he always meant well. They just knew he wasn’t some sketchy guy just trying to pick up their phone number. It was gentle Jim – who just wanted to rid the world of patellofemoral syndrome.
I am going to miss Jim more than he would have ever known. In the grand scheme of his life I did not know him long, but I knew in my heart that I was going to know him for a long time ahead. So I weep with all of you today for the years that I will not have my role model and I share with you all the great sense of deep loss that we feel over our friend and my mentor: Jim McLean."

Monica Rho
RIC resident

"I had the pleasure of getting to know Jim over the past year. Within a short time of meeting him, it was easily apparent how amazing he was. I realized early on that he was someone I truly wanted to emulate -- though I always knew it was something I would never achieve. When talking about the "well-rounded" person, Jim was seemingly the poster-child. I was in awe at how he had not only excelled professionally & academically, but that he also managed to be a decorated athlete, a good friend, a loving family member, an inspirational mentor.... And then when I read the tributes today, I learned that was just a small portion of what Jim embodied.

Perhaps what exemplies Jim best, however, is my conversation with Gary today. I was telling Gary that Jim was the kind of person I had wished I could emulate, and Gary responded to me: "well, then, you better start working on your squat thrusts and sushi eating capacity- those are big shoes to fill!" Even in times like this, Jim's memory managed to bring out the humor in Gary.

While I am truly saddened by this tragedy, I am comforted by the knowledge that he had a such significant impact on many people's lives. Even those of us who only knew him for a short while have been touched quite profoundly by Jim."

Marla S. Kaufman, M.D.
Clinical Assistant Professor
UW Medicine Sports and Spine Physicians at UWMCSeattle, WA

The Tuna Incident

"There are so many memories I have of Jim and he was such a great friend. I can not begin to even put all of my feelings down on paper. Gary and Gautam have done a remarkable job in eulogizing Jim, and how he has touched the lives of all that he knew. I feel the same way about Jim and miss him already. I think this story is an example of the typical Jim that we knew and want to remember:

Anyone who has ever eaten, and by default also “shared”, a meal with Jim knows two things: #1 He ate fast. #2 He ate a lot. Numerous times after eating at the same table as Jim, I counted my fingers to ensure one wasn’t inadvertently consumed in the frenzy. If possible, his appetite was even greater during our ironman training. We chose to do a VA rotation together in the summer of 2005 to coincide with the apex of our training. There is a very generous sized residents’ office at the East Orange VA, enough to fit 5 residents comfortably. Each resident has a locker to keep what ever things may be needed for the daily clinics…lab coat, books, jacket, etc. Jim slowly transformed not only his locker, but also the residents’ room into a second apartment. You see, he rode his bike to the VA most mornings, and then showered in some God awful shower that probably hadn’t been used, nevertheless cleaned, since the Carter administration. Because of this, he kept a decent portion of his entire wardrobe in the residents’ room. With his clothes, also came a rather impressive assortment of food. Snack time took on an entirely different meaning during that summer. We jokingly started asking permission to use the community fridge and microwave because we felt that we were somehow intruding in on someone else’s kitchen.

One of the highlights of the EOVA rotation is radiology teaching sessions with Dr. Ma. Now mind you, the images on MRI films are small, not to mention the pathology within said images. So it goes without saying that with +/- 5 residents and an attending hovering around a small image on a small lightbox, these were considered intimiate times. A majority of these sessions occur in the afternoon, after the work for the day has been completed. Unfortunately, that also coincided with Jim’s 4th meal of the day. No worries, we became accustomed to having Jim eat while we were all standing together….just background noise. One day, however, things got interesting. Jim decided that he needed more protein. Everyone knows that a good and cheap source of protein is canned tuna. Everyone also knows that there is a reason why there is no eu de tuna cologne. Well, here we are huddled together, in the middle of July mind you, staring at an MRI. Jim wanders off to get a snack. No one even flinches. He returns, however, with an open can of tuna. I am not even sure if he had a fork. Ok, I guess we can deal…after all, with the speed at which Jim eats, the tuna should only be around for less than a minute…we can hold our breath. I happen to glance over to Jim as he is finishing the tuna. We make eye contact…he looks at the nearly empty can of tuna…with the look questioning: “What should I do with the juice?” I give a gentle gesture towards the sink at the other end of the room. Jim gives a friendly shrug of the shoulders and turns back to Dr. Ma and the MRI on the light box. He then nonchalantly swigs the can of tuna juice in one gulp. That marked the end of the radiology session for the day. Jim, of course, wanted to finish reviewing the case."

Casey O'Donnell, D.O.
Kessler Grad
University Rehabilitation
East Providence, RI

"I sit here stunned days after finding out that the world lost Jim McLean. It's hard to come to terms with untimely death, even as a physician. I have always found expression through music when I cannot find the words myself. As bad as we all feel about Jim's passing, I for one, am grateful for having known him (even if just for one year) and for the lessons he taught me about physiatry and life. There are few people who leave so abruptly and with such a profound impact.

"The Dance" by Garth Brooks
Looking back on the memory of
The dance we shared 'neath the stars above
For a moment all the world was right
How could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye
And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance
Learning from you, meant everything [Changed from: Holding you I held everything]
For a moment wasn't I a king
But if I'd only known how the king would fall
Hey who's to say you know I might have changed it all
And now I'm glad I didn't know
The way it all would end the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I'd have had to miss the dance
Yes my life is better left to chance
I could have missed the pain but I'd have had to miss the dance

Thanks for the dance Jim. You will always be in my thoughts."

Mike Tracy, DO

"It was with profound sadness that I learned at 1 am on January 21, 2008 about Jim’s tragic death. Since we met in med school I’ve never known anyone to be as humanistic or caring for others as Jim. He had a way of caring for each and every patient which was the embodiment of his own philosophy. He held true and actually did the things he believed in. He was beloved by those he worked with including me. I worked with Jim on various research and teaching projects, and really I would work on anything to spend more time with the person with more drive and energy than anyone else I knew. He was almost super-human in the way he could accomplish things once he decided he was going to do something. He was focused beyond what most people are capable of. In fact when I took over running the EMG course in ‘06, he handed me a 97 page syllabus that he had been working on, and I knew I was in for it. The year after Jim graduated residency it took 9 residents and an attending to reproduce the EMG course that Jim put on himself.

It is almost incomprehensible how dedicated he was to any task at hand. Those that knew him well know just how much of his personal life he sacrificed for other people. I found out almost a year after he gave me that syllabus that he had given up an entire weekend of his own vacation and cancelled a trip to stay home and work on organizing that material for me. He was the first recipient of the Kessler Resident Teaching Residents Award – the following year the award was named after him. Who has an award named after them while they are alive? Jim. That’s the kind of impact he had.

He gave everything he had to help me at any time. I first met Jim at New Jersey Med School when he was the captain of the rugby team. I really got to know him on a rotation at children’s specialized hospital, he had just started his residency at Kessler and I was a 4th year student. What struck me right away was his interest in teaching me. I had just arrived at the hospital and he handed me two sheets of paper covered in fill-in-the-blanks. He said to me “this is what we’ll be using to learn anatomy”. He systematically went through the entire body over the course of 2 weeks – I would fill in what little I knew and he would teach me every muscle of the upper and lower limbs, their innervations, and mechanism of action. He spent hours of his own time going over and over it with me until I had it down pat. In that way Jim sparked my early interest in musculoskeletal medicine, and my respect for excellent and effective teaching in physiatry. I use the same anatomy sheets to teach students now.

Two years later Jim expressed some interest to me in learning how to juggle. Since I juggle a lot I have had plenty of opportunities to teach people how, probably in the hundreds. As a testament to Jim’s physical prowess, he learned simple and advanced techniques in one sitting faster than anyone I have ever seen. It literally took him about 2 minutes of intense focus to learn to juggle clubs, most people would take weeks or never. A minute later he was juggling advanced passing patterns, one that took me over a year of juggling to learn.

During residency Jim was instrumental in teaching and building my interest in all things related to musculoskeletal medicine. I realized then how much I admired Jim, but it isn’t until looking back that it’s possible to see the overarching influence he had on my life. He would tell me about moments he spent with Scott Nadler and demonstrate approaches he had learned. He brought me in early on research he was doing and got me involved to stimulate my own interest. He recounted what a profound impact his trip to Ecuador had on shaping him. He demonstrated by example how to be a caring physician and an effective leader. He let me in professionally and personally. He was probably the most important mentor in my life to date.

A world without Jim is one that is a little frightening to me. I saw us developing our professional careers together and him making breakthroughs for our field and patients. It is incredibly painful to accept that he will not be around. But he had already succeeded for those patients he touched and those students he influenced. I miss Jim dearly already and wish I could talk to him. I wish I could tell him that in losing him I feel like I’ve lost a part of myself."

Chris Visco, MD
Kessler Resident

"It feels like just yesterday that Jim, Gary, Scott, Marla and I were having a few beers in Boston during the AAPM&R conference. Jim embodies so many noble qualities… a loving, dedicated, caring, driven, intelligent, and generous human being. You could not help but be a better, more thoughtful person in his presence. He never gave anyone he came into contact with less than 100% undivided attention. Most of us who knew Jim would agree that he made you feel like you were the only other individual within a mile of your conversation. His family, friends, the field of PM&R, and the world will miss such a genuine role-model.
On a lighthearted note, many of us would kid him about having the best "glutes" on a man you'd ever see. He would usually respond with a musculoskeletal, physiatric rationale about their function.

He will be sorely missed as a good friend, and fellow colleague. May God bless and keep you always."

Hector Lopez RIC Grad '07

"So many people have said such great things about Jim -- and they're all true. He was kind, smart, generous, and fun. Although I only knew him for a year while he was doing his fellowship at RIC, he has made a lasting impression. I remember asking him about an MRI of the knee once. Jim wasn't sure of the answer, but within the next hour or two, he took me aside and taught me more than I expected to learn about knee MRI's. That was the type of person he was...helpful, hardworking, and doing more than you could ask for. Needless to say, he was a great teacher, a great colleague, a great person. Even though he's no longer with us, we will definitely remember him."


Jean Lai MD
RIC Grad

”Jim was one of the most enthusiatic and motivated professional collegues whom I have ever met. He was a kindhearted person who exuded good values and a unique spirit. I will always remember Jim in my professional and personal life. His smile and zeal for teaching will be deeply missed. His passing is a tremendous loss.”

Ariz Mehta, MD
Kessler Grad

"The news of Jim’s death caught me completely off guard. Jim was larger than life and for those who knew him his absence is incomprehensible. My heart goes to his family and friends and all of those who knew and loved him. Jim lives through all of us, always…"

Mila Mogilevsky, DO

"These two quotes from Kahlil Gibran make me think of Jim:

“Generosity is giving more than you can.”

“Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life.”

He was one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. During his fellowship at RIC, he consistently went ‘above and beyond’ in the way he supported and taught all of the residents. Whether is was several hours in the anatomy lab working on a dissection, staying after lecture to answer questions, or creating countless learning opportunities, like the Spinal Injection course and EMG Bootcamp- he was always there; teaching, encouraging us and helping us become better physicians!

In addition to his generosity, his passion and zest for life, and especially Physiatry, were truly inspiring. If living is indeed determined by the attitude you bring to life, then Jim ‘lived’ much more than most ever will. Although it pales in comparison to actually having him with us, I know that he will live on in our hearts and in the way we practice our field.

Thank you Jim for being an inspiration and example of generosity and passion to me and so many others!"

Ellen Casey

"Gautam, You pointed out that what I remembered was a "true Jim moment" so here goesWe got to see Jim often when you both would meet at at our home and one dayHarish and I had come home and saw you both standing in the kitchen talking earnestlyas you always did and Jim turned to us and said "Oh I didn't know that you weresleeping" and I burst out in my goofy laugh because we had just returned from a fancy wedding in Brooklyn and I was as dressed up in all my finery as I could.Anyway I cannot get over the shock of Jim's death!Jim was so alive and active and young that It is unbelievable!I cannot convey how difficult it is to imagine that he is no longer alive!He was so sincere and sweet and kind and affectionate and would just drop in and sit down to chat with us old fogies as if he had come to be with usHe was like a member of our family and amazed us with his multiple interests and enjoyment of life!He would sit down at our dining table and enjoy whatever was on the table and try to eat it Indian style!I've always loved anyone who will eat heartily with us and Jim was one such soul!God bless him and give him peace and comfort to his family and all those who are experiencing his loss!"
Mayamaya Malhotra
Mother of Dr. Gautam Malhotra
"Jim came one day. He was preparing to to give a talk to the residents on brachial plexus. He needed access to a acomputer, printer, scanner and different colored ink pens. He asked me if he could use them. For two hours he prepared those materials. I hung around him to help him. He worked with unwavering attention.I asked him if he would like to write some "tips for back pain", far a Journal called Neuro Psychiatry Reviews. I told him there was honorarium of $200 for him. Jim started working on the paper immediately until it was fully finished. He would come in a basement and for an hour keep on pounding on the drums to learn them, because that's what his joy was. He was tenacious, persistent and without a drop of laziness in his bones. Out of all of Gautam's friends, he was one of the special one for us. We've always remembered him. God bless his soul."
Harish Malhotra
Father of Dr. Gautam Malhotra

"I remember the excitement and enthusiasm of the Dean of University Kansas School of Medicine, the Department of Orthopedics and Neurosurgery, the hospital administration, the chairman Dr. Varghese, our faculty and residents expressed in welcoming Jim to develop and lead the Spine Center Program.

As a former faculty member of the Feinberg School of Medicine and staff physician @ RIC I recently joining the faculty of KUMC myself. I could identify, though not imagine the challenges Jim would address. He did so with dedication, forbearance, tenacity and amiability that was truly amazing.

His passion for education, clinical service and vision for the spine center was unparalleled.
We were stunned, shocked and filled with grief at his sudden and tragic loss.
We will remember Jim McLean MD as an outstanding clinician, role model, leader and educator who went beyond our best expectations hopes and wishes as a colleague and friend. "

Robert J Kaplan MD
Associate Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine

"What a tragic loss. Here was a young doctor who had committed his professional career to helping patients with spine disorders, only to have his own life end so early from a spinal injury. Dr. Jim McLean was here with us at UMDNJ: New Jersey Medical School (affiliated with Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation) for both his medical school training and for his residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). He consistently went above and beyond the norm when it came to his commitment to medical education. When he graduated from the residency program in 2006, I actually created a new teaching award to recognize his passion and dedication for teaching the other physicians within the residency training program. It's one thing to be singled out and recognized to receive a teaching award like that, but it's yet another thing to actually inspire the award to be created in the first place. That was Jim McLean. He had a thirst for knowledge, a dedication to teaching, and a passion for life. He will be truly missed by his colleagues, his medical professional societies, and no doubt by his patients. I extend my deep sympathies to his family, friends, and all who knew him."

-Patrick Foye, M.D.,

Associate Professor of PM&R at UMDNJ: New Jersey Medical School.

"To echo the words of so many others, it is amazing how many people Jim has touched in his life. Jim was truly gifted in his ability to connect with people. Match that with his sincerity, his boundless energy, and his intelligence and it’s easy to see that Jim was going places. Jim did more in 33 years than most people do in a lifetime.
I met Jim at the AAP meeting in Daytona. I was a PGY3 and he was getting ready to graduate residency and start his fellowship at RIC. I was hoping to come back to Chicago following residency, and after hearing that Jim gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I ever had any questions. When I came to RIC to interview, I didn’t think he would remember me. But, I didn’t know Jim….of course he remembered and he took the time between going to lectures for the Chicago Marathon to have lunch with me while I interviewed. After being selected as one of this year’s RIC Spine and Sports fellows, I couldn’t believe how kind and welcoming Jim (and Gary) were. We spent countless hours on conference calls (with Paula, the other current fellow) and e-mailing back and forth. Jim was always there to give me advice no matter how big or small my question was.
Upon arriving to RIC, it became even clearer to me what an impact Jim had on everyone at RIC. I quickly realized that Paula and I had some very big shoes to fill. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to follow Jim (or Gary)! I decided if I could do even 25% of what they did in a year, then I was doing an amazing job.
While I didn’t know Jim very long he still made a big impact on my life, and I will miss him dearly. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and his many friends."

Shana Margolis, MD
RIC Sports and Spine Fellow

"I feel that I have no business posting a message alongside those who knew Jim much better than I, who went through residency training and marathons with him. My perspective is from one who more recently came to know the incredible gentleman that was Jim McLean, MD. He arranged to spend one month during his RIC fellowship with us down here in the southern Illinois partnership near the small town of Herrin, since he heard we performed a large number of EMGs, and he didn't want his electrodiagnostic skills to rust as he was perfecting his injection techniques with our interventional colleagues. His incredible knowledge and work ethic have already been documented, but in addition to that, I immediately was impressed by his humor and humility for one so accomplished.
By the end of the first week, he asked me if there was extra work he could do in the program, including the type of "scut work" that even senior medical students would eschew. It took me a fair bit of conversation before I could wrestle out of him that he was staying in a local hotel in order to do this rotation and it was hitting him pretty hard in the pocket book. Though he wasn't pushing for this solution, I finally apologized for my density and convinced him to stay with me and my family for the month. Thus began a month of absolute joy for my two boys (now 13 and 10), because they instantly found a new "big brother." Every evening after dinner, we would find the three of them playing every game in the basement, ranging from any video game you could name (including NBA 2k6, which Jim bought for them), foozball, whiffle ball and variants thereof, improvised soccer, hockey, and a host of others. I'm not sure who had more fun. The turning point came when my 13 year old decided wrestling should be the event of the evening. I had neglected to fill him in on Jim's myriad wrestling accomplishments prior to that moment. Let's just say that my pre- adolescent son had his hands more than full wrestling Jim, and was pretty ticked off at me for not warning him.
While a guest at our home, Jim was the model of graciousness and courtesy. I hope Jim's parents will read this and accept our highest compliments for the son they raised. I can only hope that our two boys someday amount to a portion of the type of man Jim was. When my boys heard the sad news, they were deeply troubled, over a man they had known only a month. From reading the other blogs, I see that no one else will be surprised by this. It didn't take long for Jim McLean to touch a life very deeply.
Since that time, and because we enjoyed Jim's company so much and it worked out so well, we've started hosting minor league baseball players for the local independent league team, the Southern Illinois Miners. But Jim was our first "extended stay house guest," and so we always think of him when we have a guest, so I guess you could say he's still "paying it forward," and his presence goes on in our house. But that's exactly the sentiment I'm reading in all the other blogs, so once again, no surprise. I was supposed to give an EMG lecture with Jim later this winter, and I still can't get past the fact that it won't be happening as planned. I can only imagine the impact on the lives of those of you who were very close to him.
To all his family and close friends, may you somehow find peace."

--The Glennon family

"I lived with Jim for a little over a year at our house in Glen Ridge, affectionately dubbed The Rugby House. I have two very fond memories of Jim from that time. To say he was always doing something was an understatement. Jim played rugby with us on the NJMS team we had assembled. He didn’t always make it to practice but we could count on him to come to games. One day he showed up a little late and we asked where he was. He replied, “I just got back from my half triathlon.” We were blown away because he still showed up to play and stayed in for the whole game. That season we established the McLean Award for the toughest member of the team.
During his stay at the Rugby House Jim trained and competed in a Triathlon. I have never seen someone so disciplined as him. Up at 5 am to swim or bike the 40 miles to work and then back home that night to either lift or run. Weekend consisted of a 100 mile bike ride. I remember training with him once a week on his so called “speed” days. We would head to the Glen Ridge high school track and essentially run sprints for an hour and a half with no break around the track. When I say we, I mean Jim would, and I would try to do half to three quarters of that. Of course this was in the evening which means he had already worked out that morning. He was the most dedicated and intense person I had ever met. I think it’s safe to say that using half to three quarters of Jim McLean’s intensity throughout all facet’s of my life as a benchmark, then I’ll have done well."

Nicholas Beckloff

“I first got to know Jim over the course of five and a half hours while working with him preparing an anatomy presentation at RIC. We spent that time going over all of the material, including several well presented lectures covering complex concepts he had complied on the subject. Notably, he and Gary spent this kind of time every week for months – despite long work days and studying for the boards – just one example of their unfaltering, tireless dedication. Jim was such a great teacher, but most of all, one of those people who once you talk to, you realize how genuine and selfless they are. Not motivated by any outside or personal gain, he was invested in the learning process while establishing a greater understanding of the person he was working with. It was never about just getting the job done – it was the trip to get there and what was learned along the way that mattered.

Despite only knowing him for months, I trusted him with sensitive personal information and sought his advice when I first started to have problems with my health. He was an insightful listener, it was always evident he truly cared and took the time when needed. Although, it wasn’t about how much time he spent – it was the connection he sought to make in that short time in which he crossed paths with others.

I knew, honestly, how rare and wonderful he was and thought to myself – how could this man be single? Despite me (and everyone else) trying to set him up with our single best friends, he finally met Jen. The smile that would surface when her name came up in conversation was priceless. I finally met her at a resident wine and cheese party, and knew by the way they looked at each other without need for words, they were incredibly happy. So happy and such an amazing, easy-going couple – that despite my sweeping hug goodbye which knocked a glass of red wine all over her beige skirt – they were both able to just laugh it off. They refused apologies, dry cleaning and my offer to buy her a new skirt (on several different occasions). Of course, I felt so bad - I thought I had ruined their night. For most other people, that may have ruined it. At least, would have caused a stop at home to change – but not for them. They were so gracious. He later told me they went straight out to dinner and even afterwards without a further thought. The point was – it didn’t matter to them what other people might pause to look at or notice. Something I think we all could take note of and put to use in our own lives.

I know Jim was by far one of the most influential, inspiring people I have ever known and I will never forget him. I feel so lucky to have had the chance get to know him and take comfort knowing I am by far not alone in these realizations. We all will miss him very much.”

Christina Morton Sawhney
Senior RIC resident

"I first met Jim when I was a third year medical student and he was the Medicine intern. It was the first clerkship in medical school that I actually enjoyed. Not only did he not get annoyed at my stupid questions, he welcomed them. He also took time out of his busy schedule every afternoon to do some teaching. I am sure that many nights he went home much later than he needed to as a result. I certainly wasn't the only one who noticed his selflessness. He won the school-wide teaching award that year.

I encountered Jim again when I entered PM&R residency at NJMS/Kessler where he was a senior resident. It did not take long to realize that he was going to have a significant role in my class' education. I doubt there will be a day that goes by over the rest of our lives that we are not reminded of Jim's contribution to our education in some way. Be it this morning's knee lecture where I was reminded that he was the first one to teach me about patellofemoral syndrome, or this afternoon's EMG where I was reminded that Jim basically laid the groundwork for my entire EMG knowledge, Jim's contributions are everywhere.

I am attaching this picture of Jim completing the ironman because it is a great example of his boundless energy, enthusiasm and positive attitude. He was an amazing individual who contributed so much in such a short period of time. I feel fortunate to have known him."

Stacey Miller
PGY-4 NJMS/Kessler Program

"The one with the empty bottles is everything he drank in one morning of riding. He was very proud of that. I am devastated by one of our stars being lost."

Heidi Prather DO
Associate Professor PM&R
Washington University in St. Louis

"I am an RN in the SSRC/RIC Procedure Suite. I was lucky and honored to have worked with Jim during his fellowship at SSRC. Jim was always smiling. He had a great sense of humor and often had us laughing at the simplest things. He was intensely committed to his work, but, at the same time was relaxed and approachable. I took the liberty of listening to him as he examined patients. His “bedside” manner was gentle, supportive and above all informative. It was obvious how much he loved teaching and that he was very skilled. Many times he used this skill to allay patient anxiety and fears about a procedure and I might add he was quite successful!

Jim soon became a very skillful clinician in the procedure suite. A patient Jim completed a procedure on said to me upon discharge, “Tell that young doctor that was painless and his future patient’s are very lucky!”

I will miss Jim and his warm sincere smile. My thoughts are with his family and friends in this tragically sad time."

Mary Beth Eggers RN,CRRN
Spine and Sports Rehabilitation Center

“Although my experience with Jim was very limited, his enthusiasm and passion for teaching was unmatched. He was always so approachable and made a truly sincere effort to share his knowledge with you….it never felt like he was trying to outsmart you or prove you wrong. His career, as short as it was, will probably be more remarkable than most. He left an impact on all he came across and he will always be remembered by me as an extraordinary leader.”

Shilpa Rao Kasuganti, MD
PGY4, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

“Jim was always patient, passionate, and willing to teach me (though I am not the most willing student). From taking one-on-one time to help me prepare for a lecture to teaching a bunch of us who just wanted to go home to letting me perform injections when it was "his" injection to do. I want to thank him posthumously for giving us all a role model to aspire to be. His loss is felt by not only us who knew him (however briefly) but by those who will never get to interact with him.”

Cherina Cyborski, MD
PGY4, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

“I was so saddened to hear about Jim's death. It really puts everything into perspective...
Just a few thoughts on Jim: Intelligent. Thoughtful. Caring. Always ready to help you in any way. He will be missed.”

Joan Le, MD
RIC Grad

“Obviously Jim had a lot of energy, it showed in everything that he did and was immediately obvious upon looking at him physically. Fortunately for those who had the chance to meet him was that coupled with this energy was a great desire to help others and unmatched generosity. When my wife and I were getting ready to move to a new apartment during our last year at RIC we woke to the news that two of our friends that were supposed to help us move were sick and couldn’t make it and that the maintenance man from our building who we had hired to help us for the day got called into work.
This left us with few options; we had nobody to help us. Although moving is a favor typically reserved for only the closest of friendships Jim had offered his help to us the day before. I had little choice but to call in the favor. He didn’t answer my call and so I left a message. I assumed that, like most people faced with the option of spending their weekend moving someone they had just met, he would call me the next day and apologize for missing my message.
Jim showed up an hour or so later. He had just done a “leg work-out” and ran like 10 miles. He spent the whole day and the better part of the night with us, helping to move our apartment, literally lifting and carrying thousands of pounds in and out of the truck. He did this after first waking up that morning and working out and then jogging almost a half marathon. My wife and I were so grateful for his help, we really didn’t know what we would have done without him. We sat and cried together today when we heard the news.”

Daniel Heller, MD
RIC Alum
Richmond, Virginia

“When I heard the tragic news about Jim, I was devastated. Jim was a fellow in our sports and spine program when I was a senior resident at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Although I only knew Jim for one year while he was living in Chicago, I know that he made a dynamic impact on me and other residents in our program. Jim probably put in at least an extra 40 hours per week strictly for resident teaching. He was not required to put in all that extra time – he did it because he cared about the residents and he loved to teach. Listening to him teach made you want to learn and it made you want to be a better physician.

I keep thinking back to the time that I spent with Jim last year. There are a few distinct episodes that stick out in my mind. I would like share a few of those with you. When Jim started his fellowship at RIC, I was chief resident. Part of the responsibility that comes with that title includes scheduling all of the resident lectures. One of our lecture series, the “Sports and Spine” lectures, was primarily given by the residents to the other residents. It was kind of like residents teaching other residents. But, the first couple months of that lecture series was given by the fellows to make sure that all the fundamental concepts get covered thoroughly (and to make sure that the residents could see how these lectures should be done the right way and didn’t screw up too badly when we were on our own to give these lectures!). Now, you have to remember that the academic year starts in July and Jim had his PM&R boards coming up in August. These lectures were every Wednesday. So, basically, on Wednesdays from the beginning of July, Jim had the responsibility of giving a one hour lecture to the residents. Now, I knew in my mind that he had his boards coming up in a month and I felt so guilty asking him to take time away from his studying to give these lectures so that I can put it in the schedule. Never once did Jim complain that he does not have time for these lectures. Not once did he mention that he should be studying or doing something more productive. And every single lecture that Jim gave was outstanding and it was obvious that he put in several hours to prepare for these lectures. Not a single lecture was incomplete. Not a single question was left unanswered.

Another episode that sticks out in my mind has to do with Jim’s passion for teaching. Jim had basically written an entire course on electromyography while he was a resident in New Jersey and wanted to make sure that he continues to develop the course for the residents’ benefit. So, after a few meetings and after a few discussions, we were able to implement this course into our curriculum at RIC. Now, when I say that he developed this course – I mean he developed this course from scratch. He had designed a schedule, there was course material that he had written, he had written a self study guide, he had written self assessment questions, and the list goes on and on. Basically, there was a binder at least 3 inches thick with course material that he had written. As part of this course for the residents, he made a color copy of this material and gave every resident a binder. Why did Jim do this? Because he cared and because he genuinely wanted to make sure that all the residents learned. So, after I found out about all this, I was impressed. No fellow had ever taken that much effort into teaching the residents. The next time I ran into Jim I thanked him for everything that he was doing for the residents and I told him that I understand that making copies of all those binders must have been very expensive and he should give me the receipt so that he can be reimbursed. I mean, really, it was the least I could do. Jim refused and said it was not a big deal and he shrugged it off and said if it even helps one person, he has done something right. I don’t know if he realized how many people he helped with his efforts.

When Jim left RIC, so did I and the rest of my class. Everyone went their separate ways. Jim headed to Kansas City to join faculty there, Gary headed to Arkansas to become faculty there. My classmates went all over the country including California, New Jersey, Michigan, Indiana, Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Utah and few stayed in Chicago.

I distinctly remember thinking about Jim when I was leaving Chicago. I remember thinking to myself that I had never met anyone so genuine and good-hearted, not mention enthusiastic about medicine, passionate about teaching, smart and innovative. He was always talking about new research ideas that he wanted to answer one day. I knew that I was going to see him again one day at a future academy meeting and everyone in PM&R was going to know his name because he was going places.

It is times like these when you wonder how bad things can happen to good people. I don’t think anyone has an answer. Jim will always be lovingly remembered as a friend, teacher and colleague. “

Kavita Trivedi DO
RIC Grad

Pain Fellow, University of Michigan


Jim as cowboy

Jimmy (on the left) and Justin when they were little

photos submitted by Marlena McLean

"I work in the Procedure Suite at RIC/SSRC. Jim was a bright light when he was our Fellow. I can still see his smile that never left his face while he was here. After he left for Kansas and came back to Chicago to visit, he always stopped here – I will miss seeing him pop around the corner to say hello! My sincerest heartfelt sympathy extends to his family, girlfriend and his friends. He will be truly missed!"

Christine Pfeil
Spine and Sports Rehabilitation Center

"I am not sure that there is anything that I can say about Jim that has not already been said several times over especially through the words of Gary and Gautam and all of those who came to know and love him over the same years that I did the same. Jim and I met first year at NJMS in 1998. We were friendly for the first few years mainly through time at the gym and the occasional class that we both actually attended at the same time. We became closer over the 3rd and 4th years as our interests in PM&R grew and our clinical time overlapped more. When we started residency together that bond grew. While Jim was always faster, stronger and more dedicated, he and I along with Casey, Gary, and Brian spent quite a few hours riding and swimming together. I remember him refueling from my snack drawer, leaving my wife and I with nothing to eat for a a while. I remember him on the bank of some lake in Mountain Lakes, wetsuit on, wading into the sometimes too cold water at a definitely too early an hour. I remember him at our research sessions (we did our senior project together at Kessler) always excited by the turnout and the results. I remember how he was always taking on more than any other two of us could handle. Mostly I remember that through all of the BS that comes with the hoops we all jump through in our chosen profession, there were very few complaints and more smiles on Jim than I have worn on my face in my lifetime. My classmates know that I may have been the most serious and stoic in our class but Jim's smile had a habit of being contagious and it always made those cold swims and late nights at Kessler studying or gathering data that much more enjoyable. I haven't kept in touch with Jim as much as I should have over the last year or so but I miss him already. Rest in Peace."

Kyle Stier, MD

“I got to know Jim pretty well over the last year and a half. When he got to RIC, he made friends easily. He had such a gentle and genuine way about him that all the residents were drawn to him. He took so much pride in being a good physician, a good teacher, a good friend, and a good person. I went to him often for advice on clinical issues and professional issues. My education at RIC was elevated immeasurably because of the influence of the Jim and Gary team.

Beyond his intelligence, professional diligence and enthusiasm for physiatry, however, Jim was a truly special friend and human being. I think about the ripple-effect when I think about Jim. Anyone who ever interacted with him came away a better person. His kindness, his ability to put things in perspective, the way he could laugh-off insignificant issues rubbed off on me and many others. His impact on people was truly exponential.

I also had a lot of good times with Jim. Outside of our days at RIC, we spent a lot of good times on the road. Last May, we were in New Orleans together for the ACSM Annual Meeting. He was on the tail end of a whirlwind of trips and presentations. The night before his presentation at the ACSM, he was up all night putting the finishing touches on his talk. He was also sick, and nearly lost his voice. His presentation came off flawless, but more importantly, his physical condition didn't stop him from coming out for Oysters and Bloody Mary's the next day. Gary, Hector, Jim and I spent a lot of time in the French Quarter solving life's most important dilemmas like "who was the worst draft pick in the 2001 NBA draft?, or what was the best 80's movie?" Similarly, in Boston this past September, I remember Jim making a lot of last minute changes to his presentation (I think I have come across a theme of procrastination). But once again, this was followed by good times and good talks. Jim was focused and worked hard. But he always made time to enjoy himself and his friends.

I will miss you dearly Jim, but please know that I am a better person for having known you, and your spirit will live on in every life you touched.”

Scott T. Roberts, MD
Spine and Sports Fellow
Visiting Instructor, Division of PM&R University of Utah