Leeper's passion for EUHM patients, students, research endures through education fund

By Michelle Hiskey | July 8, 2016

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Ken Leeper inspired his teams to do their best work on behalf of patients.

Emory pulmonologist and professor of medicine Kenneth Leeper, MD, always went beyond what was required for his patients, students and research. To him, the best outcomes in medicine depended on teamwork.  

Today, a year after he passed away, the Kenneth Leeper Memorial Education Fund is helping make sure his dedication lives. The first Kenneth Leeper Memorial Lecture in April featured Richard G. Wunderink, MD, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, a leader in research and education of pulmonary infections and sepsis. The fund also supports clinical research and teaching at Emory University Hospital Midtown, where Leeper was based.

“The fund will also sponsor projects by nurses in the intensive care unit, respiratory therapists and others with whom Ken had such a wonderful teaching relationship,” said David Guidot, professor of medicine and director of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. “We will make sure that Ken Leeper’s name continues to be associated with all the great teaching, patient care and clinical research that happens at Emory University Hospital Midtown.”

In 17 years at Emory, Leeper added to his national and international reputation for his clinical research activity and contributions to the medical literature. Relationships energized him, whether with patients, medical students, nurses, medical residents, fellows or other team members. In this Emory video and other tributes, Leeper was described as having a magnetic personality, hearty laugh and a gift for storytelling, and those attributes helped him inspire those around him to do their best work on behalf of patients.

“For Ken, it was never how good are we doing,” recalled Alvaro Velasquez, assistant professor of medicine in the same Emory division. “His thing was: Can we do better? What else can we do for this patient that we haven’t done yet? Do you feel that if this was your family member, would you like to do something else? Is there something we are missing here that we can help this patient better? And that’s what mad Ken such a unique person and an example to everybody.”

 A video celebration played at the first Kenneth Leeper Memorial Lecture in spring 2016.

A video celebration played at the first Kenneth Leeper Memorial Lecture in spring 2016.

Leeper’s devotion to teaching and mentoring was widely recognized by medical trainees at Emory and the University of Tennessee, and he achieved the rare feat of being awarded Golden Apple Teaching Awards at two institutions. EUHM also named him the Outstanding Senior Clinician in 2009.

“Ken was the heart of the hospital,” said his wife Denise M. Cardo, MD, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. “He went beyond his patients to mentoring his fellows to not just be good, but to be great health care providers. Ken would say, ‘It’s not just us physicians. The whole team has to work together for the best care.’”

She said that after his death at age 63, she wondered how to help continue his legacy of making a difference in people’s lives and the goal of creating the next generation of clinicians. “This education fund will really continue what he always did,” she said. “It’s not just focused on physicians, but the whole team, and that will really help his legacy.”   

To make a contribution to the Kenneth Leeper Memorial Education Fund, please visit this page.