By Dennis Gastineau, MD, FACT President
We all lost a friend on June 19. Born and educated in Australia, Dr. Michael Lill endured many struggles with cancer, yet he rarely allowed any interferences with his mission of helping patients, colleagues, and friends.
A quietly cheerful man, Michael took on hard tasks, shepherding people through cancer treatment without transfusion, attending to bone marrow transplant patients, leading the Cedars-Sinai Blood and Marrow Transplant program, and helping the larger BMT community through his many roles in the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT). “Michael was a kind, intelligent, and dedicated physician,” says Dr. Elizabeth Shpall, who worked with Michael frequently on important initiatives in the field. “He was a huge asset to FACT and ASBMT with an amazing heart.”
Michael was the Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and a Professor of Medicine at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr. Lill’s research and clinical interests focused on bone marrow, peripheral blood and cord blood stem cell transplantation, leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma and MDS. He is known for developing a program in bloodless transplantation for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Dr. Lill was listed as one of the “Best Doctors in America,” as well as one of the “Best Cancer Doctors in America” from 2005 until the present. He served on several national transplant related committees, and held a long-standing interest in the ethical and philosophical aspects of religion and its intersection with medical practice.
Our Past President, Dr. Helen Heslop, knew that Michael was effective in any task he undertook, “When I was FACT President, Michael was a ‘go to’ person for leading new initiatives because of his broad knowledge, his commitment to quality and providing the best care for patients, and his leadership skills.”
Michael was the first Chair of our Clinical Outcomes Improvement Committee, and was instrumental in establishing new requirements for evaluating and improving one-year transplant survival. He led us to find our form and function, to better understand what programs need to do to improve their care of patients, and to become a committee consistently guiding programs through self-evaluation and improving care of their patients. “Michael was a transformational leader in the evaluation of outcomes,” says Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Phyllis Warkentin. “He was patient, and he provided a voice of reason that was pivotal to establishing a fair process for reviewing programs’ plans for improving survival.”
Dr. Fred LeMaistre, who served as Co-Chair of the Outcomes Committee with Michael, says, “Michael played so many roles for so many of us. Friend, colleague, mentor, leader are all inadequate descriptions. An immeasurable loss for us, our field and the patients we serve. A void now exists in our world that will not soon be filled.” Dr. LeMaistre now chairs the committee and frequently encourages us to utilize Michael’s advice during committee deliberations.
Another FACT Board member, Dr. Catherine Bollard, reflects on Michael as both colleague and friend. “Michael was a true gentleman and had the kindest of spirits while at the same time having an endearingly wicked sense of humor. Michael was a rare individual by so many metrics. His contributions to the transplant field and especially his critical work within FACT are significant and will be an enduring legacy. His was a life that was cut short way too soon and he will be truly missed.”
“A soft-spoken gentle man, Michael was a philosopher and quintessential writer,” said Linda Miller, FACT’s Chief Executive Officer. “His poignant blog provided everyone with insight to a more introspective side, reflective of his focus on the positive aspects of those things that brought him joy – his wife, family, dog, garden, and oh yes, wine.”
We have lost a beacon. We were all privileged to have known him, and to honor him we must carry on in the manner of Michael—being strong, gentle, erudite, and most of all, caring.
Michael Lill – FACT Leadership
FACT, Board Member 2013 – 2017
FACT, Treasurer 2016 – 2017
Chair, FACT Clinical Outcomes Improvement Committee 2013 – 2017
FACT Inspector for nearly 20 years performing 20 clinical and laboratory inspections