Dr. Elizabeth Szalay (1953 - 2014)

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Dr. Elizabeth Szalay, a professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, died peacefully December 29, 2014 at her home in Albuquerque. Elizabeth lived and died with dignity, faith and courage. She is survived by her husband, Dr. Ken Gilman; her stepchildren Juliane Taylor Shore (Adam), Joel Taylor (Brittany), and Luke Gilman (Beth); her grandchildren Stella Shore and Koa Taylor; her brother Tom Szalay and her sisters Midge Mollenkopf (Al), and Judy Dvorak (James); her in-laws Sue and Peter Gilman; her sister-in-law Cathy Guinan and many nieces, nephews, close friends and colleagues. She is predeceased by parents George and Gizella Szalay and brother Jerry Szalay.
Elizabeth was born in Los Alamos February 2, 1953. Always a star pupil, she graduated from University of New Mexico, obtained her medical degree from UNM, did her residency in San Antonio, a fellowship at Scottish Rite Hospital in Dallas and started her medical practice at Vanderbilt in orthopaedics specializing in pediatric orthopaedics – at that time not usually a field open to smart, attractive blondes. She managed to excel through exceptional ability and her clear understanding of medicine. She formed life-long friendships with her fellow doctors and their families and honored a decades-long annual Christmas shopping weekend with the wives of her long-suffering fellow medical residents from her early career.
Elizabeth moved to Beaumont, TX where she practiced with the well-respected Beaumont Bone and Joint Institute, and where she formed a lasting and loving relationship with stepchildren Juliane and Joel Taylor and very close friendships with neighbors, colleagues, patients, and hospital staff. She was an active supporter of the arts and many non-profit organizations.
After returning to New Mexico, her wonderful life became more blessed. She re-met and married former classmate, Ken Gilman, who brought into the relationship his extended family, including his son Luke. Her career flourished as a professor, mentor, surgeon, researcher and writer. She served as the head of Pediatric Orthopaedic surgery at UNM Carrie Tingley Hospital and as professor of Orthopeadic Surgery at University of New Mexico School of Medicine, all the while seeing patients, mentoring and training students, interns, and residents, and excelling in academic research and writing. She served as a national board examiner for the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, and as a member of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, she served on the national Board of Councilors and the Women's Health Advisory Board. She was a national spokesperson for Culturally Competent Care in orthopaedics. She published extensively in medical journals, including seminal work on osteoporosis and vitamin D deficiency in children and on orthopaedic issues found in Native American children. She participated in eight surgical missions to Ecuador caring for underserved children in that country. She performed surgery in remote areas of New Mexico helping children unable to travel to hospitals for care. In her practice in Albuquerque, as well as her prior private practice in Beaumont, Texas, she willingly cared for those who could not pay. She was gifted, energetic, intelligent and generous with her time and enormous talents.
Elizabeth dealt with her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer the same way she dealt with other obstacles in life. The disease never defined her; she put it in its place and kept it there as long as she could. In the meantime, she continued to see patients, conduct research, travel, hike, paint, play music, read, learn and pray. She believed the prayers of well-wishers around the world sustained her.
With the unending support of Ken, her brother and sisters, other family, her friends and special friend, Brother Michael Gallagher, she lived each day fully until the very last. Shortly before her death, she was selected as the unanimous honoree for the 2015 Humanitarian Award bestowed by the Pediatric Orthopaedic Society of North America for her work with children in Ecuador and New Mexico.
Elizabeth and Ken served on the board of St. Anthony's Alliance which supports lifesaving interventions for the health of people living in extreme poverty. Elizabeth introduced residents to medical mission work, and taught them the difference between doing surgery TO patients in the underdeveloped world and her approach of helping within the realm of her abilities and resources FOR the children of Ecuador. One resident said in describing Elizabeth's work, "surgical interventions were performed in those patients who would benefit with minimal risk for their recovery knowing that our team would return home. We were providing care to the poorest in the region who otherwise could not receive this care. And, finally, we treated all patients and their families with dignity."
A memorial service celebrating the life of Dr. Elizabeth Szalay will be at 2:00 p.m. February 7th at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, 601 Montano Road NW, Albuquerque. The family suggests that memorial contributions may be made to St. Anthony's Alliance at 4123 Montgomery Blvd NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109 in honor of the Damien House. The family also wishes to thank Dr. Lee and the staff of the UNM Cancer Center for their excellent care and concern during Elizabeth's illness. Cremation has taken place under the direction of the Cremation Society of New Mexico.
Published in Los Alamos Monitor on Jan. 18, 2015