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Originally published June 9, 2010 at 8:32 PM | Page modified June 9, 2010 at 8:43 PM

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Doctor turned illness into learning experience

Dr. Greg Lipski died May 31 after a long battle with leukemia and complications from treatment. He was 42. Tall, lanky and cheerful, Dr. Lipski was a humble man of deep convictions who built houses for the poor, worked on the first unmanned aircraft to cross the Atlantic and decided in his mid-30s to become a doctor.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Greg Lipski was almost halfway through medical school when he was diagnosed with leukemia. Still, he studied from his hospital bed, got his degree and became a source of inspiration to others.

Dr. Lipski died May 31 after a long battle with leukemia and complications from treatment. He was 42.

Tall, lanky and cheerful, Dr. Lipski was a humble man of deep convictions who built houses for the poor, worked on the first unmanned aircraft to cross the Atlantic and decided in his mid-30s to become a doctor because he wanted to touch more people's lives. Classmates often would know he was at a coffee shop in the University District when they spotted his vintage orange Bronco parked outside.

He turned his illness into a learning experience for hundreds of doctors in training, sending out periodic group e-mails to UW medical students, speaking frankly about the difficulties he faced as a leukemia patient — detailing things that went well, and not so well, in his own treatment.

"Greg helped us see that even as we plow through an enormous daily workload, we're taking care of people, not objects, and must always give them our respect," said Dr. Anna Shope, who spoke at Dr. Lipski's memorial service on Sunday.

Just over a year ago, Dr. Lipski married Dr. Erin "Pear" Currin. The two met in medical school in 2004 when he was a teaching assistant in her anatomy class. In March 2005, Dr. Lipski was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia and underwent a bone-marrow transplant. The two began dating in 2006 and married in April last year, about a month before he underwent a second transplant to stay alive.

"Even though he was going through such hard times, he'd never once complain," said Currin, of Seattle.

Gregory Lee Lipski was born in Virginia in 1967 to Bernard and Masako Lipski. At age 8, he and his older brother, Curtis, helped their father build a house, measuring boards and calculating how many were needed.

Dr. Lipski graduated from Bethel High School in 1985 and attended the UW on a Navy ROTC scholarship. He received the "Commander Battalion" award during college, the highest honor for an ROTC student, and graduated in 1989 with a degree in electrical engineering, Currin said.

After five years as a submarine officer in the Navy, Dr. Lipski earned a master's degree in engineering at the UW. He worked in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics from 1996 to 2003. Dr. Lipski provided technical support to a group that built the first unmanned aircraft to cross the Atlantic Ocean, said department Chairman Adam Bruckner.

"That was a big deal, and he played a major role in that," Bruckner said.

As he took classes to prepare to apply to medical school, Dr. Lipski had a scheduling conflict between a final exam and a trip to Mexico to build houses for the poor. When his request to take the final early was denied, he chose to go to Mexico and got a poor grade in his exam.

"He felt more strongly about helping people than the grade," Currin said.

Dr. Lipski was accepted within a week of his interview at UW's medical school. He received a standing ovation when he graduated in 2008.

His UW residency in anesthesiology was cut short when his leukemia came back later that year. After a second transplant in 2009, he developed complications as the transplanted cells attacked his body.

Besides his wife, Dr. Lipski is survived by his parents, of Graham, Pierce County; his sister, Vickie Lipski, of Puyallup; and his brother, Curtis, of Portland.

Donations may be made to "UW Foundation," with a note to direct the gift to the UW Medicine Alumni Association Endowed Scholarship Fund in memory of Greg Lipski. The address: UW Medicine Advancement, Attn.: Donna Caliri, 815 Mercer St., C-5, Box 358045, Seattle, WA 98109.

Times staff reporter Jack Broom contributed to this report.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

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