(Training pics are full size; some more recent pictures -- with a bluish outline -- can be clicked to enlarge)
Dr. Robert LeBow
died November 2003


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Bob LeBow
Bob Lebow (1940-2003), MD, MPH, was the Medical Director of a community health center in Idaho for over 25 years. A graduate of Harvard college and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Dr.Lebow was board certified in two specialties: Family Practice and Preventive Medicine. He had extensive experience working on the development of health systems and preventive programs in over 20 developing countries, including a two-year stint as a Peace Corps physician in Bolivia.

Dr. LeBow, devoted most of his career to addressing the problems of health care in the United States. A self-described "health care activist," in 1998 and 1999 he was president of Physicians for a National Health Program.

On a daily basis, Dr. LeBow dealt with the plight of the uninsured. He felt very strongly that America must have universal coverage, like every other industrialized country. In his book "Health Care Meltdown" he explained that only through fundamental changes in the way we finance health care will we be able to create a system that is affordable and equitable; only then will we regain our dignity as individuals and a nation.

Location and Job

Staff, Cochabamba (when?)
Doctor in Peace Corps


Paralyzed Doc Struggles to be Useful
BALA CYNWYD, Pa. (AP) - June 25, 2003 — It is Dr. Bob LeBow's sad fate to be trapped on four wheels when he spent so much of his life unbridled on two. He rode his bike all over the world - in Bolivia, where he served in the Peace Corps.; to the villages of Swaziland and the heights of Tibet; down the rural backroads of Idaho, where he helped build a remarkable medical clinic.

Tested by tragedy, he became a national advocate of universal health insurance. He distilled all his passion into a book that told about patients who suffered because they could not afford a doctor's care, or a pharmacist's remedies. The book was published last July. A week later, his bike betrayed him.

Now he lives at his son's home in the Philadelphia suburbs, a quadriplegic caught up in the same health care system he railed against. Encumbered by his wheelchair, connected to a ventilator, he is depressed by the prospect of a life in which he cannot be of use to others. But that is impossible, say the people who know and love him. They say Bob LeBow still touches lives as he did 32 years ago, when he, his wife and two sons arrived in Nampa, Idaho.

There, a charismatic young man named Terry Reilly had set out to tutor the children of migrant farm workers - and ended up opening a health clinic, instead. The problem, Reilly found, was that his students were often too sick to make progress. So he secured a $271,000 federal grant for the new Community Health Clinics. LeBow had returned from the Peace Corps and had earned a master's degree in public health when he heard about Nampa through an old classmate. He was enticed by rural life, and by the opportunity to treat the needy.

Dr. Bob was soft-spoken to the point of mumbling; he had a kind face, with a perpetual five o'clock shadow and glasses often slightly askew. His sweaters always seemed to have holes at the elbows. He hated meetings and often fell asleep during them (though he had an uncanny ability to awaken and contribute when his turn came). In his time off, LeBow traveled to developing countries as a consultant to help build their health care systems. He was mentor to dozens of doctors. He emphasized the importance of preventive medicine, of expanded access to care, of treating patients with dignity and respect.

Dr. Jonathan Bowman, the clinic's assistant medical director, recalls LeBow's message to doctors: "You're actually part of the therapeutic process. You're helping people get better by showing them you care." He practiced what he preached, and patients adored him. "He was sensitive to the mind, body and spirit. He listened carefully," said LeBow's office mate, Dr. Laura Tirrell. Rosie Reilly recalls how her husband and LeBow "just bounced ideas off each other ... and there was nothing that was not doable."

They delivered babies. They opened an in-house pharmacy. They hired a health educator. They established programs for victims of sexual abuse, for teenagers, for the elderly. They opened more satellite clinics. They improvised - when floors sagged, they used jacks to prop them up. By 1986, Terry Reilly was a rising political figure; he served a term in the state Senate, a Democrat elected from a Republican stronghold, and he wanted to be lieutenant governor. He was campaigning on April 10 when the single-engine plane taking him from Coeur d'Alene to Idaho Falls plummeted into a hillside, killing him and two others.

Three months before, on Jan. 10, Bob and wife Gail's younger son, Tommy, was driving just a mile from home when his car hit a patch of black ice and skidded into a telephone pole. The "soul mate" who had joined Bob on so many bike trips was 16. "Tommy's death crystalized for me a goal which I had more or less unconsciously strived for before: to alleviate suffering as much as possible. Now it became a conscious personal goal," Bob LeBow would write in a newspaper column seven years later. First, he testified in favor of a mandatory seat-belt law in Idaho (Tommy wasn't wearing one); it passed narrowly. Then, he ran for the Legislature - three times, unsuccessfully.

Universal health insurance was his great issue. He had seen too much suffering - a 64-year-old woman with diabetes and high blood pressure who only took her medication twice or three times a week, because it was all she could afford; a farmworker who could not afford a $100 payment to a specialist, and went home, only to be diagnosed months later with tuberculosis.

This was his message, told to voters, told at meetings across the Northwest, told in his capacity as president of Physicians for a National Health Program, told in his book, "Health Care Meltdown": The current health care system is an expensive failure that serves only the insurance companies and pharmaceutical and health-care industries. To those who said that his solution - taxpayer-financed national health insurance - meant health care would be rationed, he retorted that it already WAS rationed. The poor were the ones who were denied medicine.

Last July 25, the book was finished, and he carried a copy for an old friend as he rode his bike to work. He was about three miles from home when the brake calipers got caught in the front wheel, sending him flying. He was wearing a helmet, of course, but he landed face first, breaking his neck. When he stopped breathing, his brain was denied oxygen, and was injured as well.

LeBow's recovery took him from Boise to Craig Hospital in Denver and finally to Bala Cynwyd, where Ted, his wife Jennifer and their three daughters have turned their home into a hospital for one man. Bob LeBow had plenty of insurance. But even so, it may not be enough. In less than a year, his care (24 hours a day, seven days a week) has eaten up more than half of the million-dollar lifetime cap on his health insurance.

He is in rehab now. He is learning to use his chin to play computer games, and to draw with a pen in his mouth. These may seem to be small steps, but 10 months ago doctors saw a man whose heart had stopped repeatedly, who couldn't swallow, who struggled with a few words; this, they said, is probably as good as it will get. "It's been very tough," Bob LeBow says. Sometimes, he's depressed. "I'd like to live as long as I can be of use to somebody," he says. Otherwise, "I'd rather just check out."

But his spirits are raised by the success of "Health Care Meltdown." Twelve thousand copies have been sold, and Alan C. Hood & Co. will publish a hardback edition in mid-July. He has been buoyed, as well, by a loving celebration in Nampa. Staffers of what is now known as Terry Reilly Health Services were devastated by the accident. They could not bring themselves to touch LeBow's desk, to move his papers.

Dr. Erwin Teuber, the clinic's executive director, thought his staff needed to turn the page. For one thing, the clinic needed LeBow's desk - it has grown to a $9.3 million a year operation, treating more than 18,000 patients in 10 locations. - So in late May, 150 people congregated at the clinic's newly christened Dr. Bob LeBow Conference Room. With Bob on the phone, they sang "Happy Birthday" (he would turn 63 on June 16). They presented him with the first Bob LeBow Community Health Award.

And they spoke excitedly of the first Bob LeBow Classic Bike Tour. On June 14, 232 cyclists pedaled across the Idaho countryside, to clinics LeBow helped build, past fields and mountains he had traversed so many times. Their purpose was his dream: to fund health care for the poor. More than 2,100 miles away, Gail LeBow put the No. 1 race number at the foot of Bob's bed, tangible evidence that though he can no longer ride a bike, he can still move mountains.



"Bob: I think of you often, our happy times together and thewonderful work you did for poor people--both here and abroad. You serve as a lasting inspiration and you spirit will live in me for the restof my life. " --Alan Jay Rom

"I'll remember you for your dedication to all.Peace Corps Staff, Volunteers, the Bolivians during the hemoragic fever outbrak and a hard fought uphill struggle to get care for poor idaho children."
--Margie Verploegen


In fond memory of PNHP Past President, Dr. Robert LeBow
PNHP is greatly saddened to inform our members and friends of the death of our former President, Dr. Bob LeBow. Dr.LeBow passed away in late November, 2003 at age 63, fifteen months after a freak bicycle accident left him quadriplegic. His death is an immense loss to the movement for universal healthcare. He possessed a uniquely effective combination of decades of direct experience caring for the uninsured, Harvard-educated policy brilliance, and an easygoing, humble personality. During his presidency of PNHP, in 1998 and 1999, he participated in many forums, including a debate with then-AMA President Nancy Dickey at the annual meeting of the National Rural Health Association (of which LeBow had also been president).

At the time of his accident, LeBow was planning to take early retirement from his 30-year career as a family practitioner in community health centers in Idaho to devote himself full-time to the cause of single payer national health insurance. Even after his accident, he continued his activism, giving interviews to the media and appearing at a press conference in Philadelphia in support of the Physicians Proposal for National Health Insurance.

A tireless, articulate leader, LeBow brought to his work a life-time of service to the poor in both the US and developing countries around the world. In addition to his family practice work in Idaho, he did consulting on primary health systems around the world.

He was also a passionate bicyclist and was one of the first people to bicycle solo across Tibet. His bicycle was a familiar site parked outside of PNHP annual meetings. Among his many other hobbies were woodworking, photography, stamp collecting, and spending time with his three granddaughters. LeBow spoke five languages and was a student of ancient Sumerian, while his wife, Gail, read Egyptian hieroglyphics.

LeBow was highly prized by all of us who knew him. His legacy, completed days before his accident, is his book Health Care Meltdown, a marvelous, lucid overview of our damaged health system and its remedy. We have distributed copies to thousands of physicians and the public at large, to uniform acclaim. In Bobs memory, we shall always stay committed to his vision of a better health system for all and do our best to achieve it.
- Quentin Young, PNHP National Coordinator


December 1, 2003
Bolivia Peace Corps Staff Physician Bob LeBow dies in Idaho
Dr. Bob LeBow
by Patrick Orr, The Idaho Statesman

So many friends and admirers showed up Sunday to mourn Dr. Bob LeBow that several had to stand outside in drizzling rain just to be near his funeral service.

More than 200 people jammed into every corner of Boise´s Relyea Funeral Chapel to honor LeBow, 63, a nationally renowned health-care activist for the poor. They hugged and cried silently during and after the service for LeBow, who died Saturday from complications related to a 2002 bicycle accident, which left him a quadriplegic.

“Bob was the antithesis of the doctor in the ivory tower,” said Rabbi Daniel B. Fink of Congregation Ahavath Beth-Israel, as he lauded LeBow´s life-long fight to provide medical services to those who could least afford them. “If it was a matter of right and wrong, he would have his voice heard.”

LeBow´s wife, Gail, and his son, Ted, sat in the front row, holding hands and alternately comforting each other. Ted LeBow had to fight back tears as he read a note his daughter, Jess, wrote to honor her grandfather.

“His mission was satisfied, as well as his duty,” Ted LeBow read from the note.

Mourners were silent and somber throughout much of the service. But Fink drew laughs when he pointed out that LeBow was so stubborn and true to his beliefs that he ran for the Legislature in 1994 as a liberal Democrat in Canyon County, one of Idaho´s most Republican territories.

By Jewish custom, a funeral is held as soon as possible. But the short notice didn´t stop a huge crowd from showing up, including many legislators and local politicians. The burial will be today at Morris Hill Cemetery.

LeBow first began working at Terry Reilly Health Services in Nampa in 1971 and also served a stint for the Peace Corps in his effort to bring health care to those least able to afford it.

Fink described LeBow as a man who had a thirst for knowledge and the rare ability to turn it into wisdom. Even after he was paralyzed, his dedication did not waver. On Aug. 12 he held a news conference in Philadelphia to advocate a national health-insurance program.

“Bob LeBow could forget more than most of us will ever know,” Fink said.

He noted that Jess LeBow once said her grandfather “had so much knowledge it could build a bridge to the moon.”

LeBow was paralyzed on July 25, 2002, when he was thrown from his bicycle while riding from his Boise home to work in Nampa.

The accident occurred shortly after his book, “Health Care Meltdown,” was released. In the book he criticized the American health-care system, which is built on the ability to pay. LeBow was an advocate for universal health care and national health insurance.

So many friends and admirers showed up Sunday to mourn Dr. Bob LeBow that several had to stand outside in drizzling rain just to be near his funeral service. More than 200 people jammed into every corner of Boise´s Relyea Funeral Chapel to honor LeBow, 63, a nationally renowned health-care activist for the poor. They hugged and cried silently during and after the service for LeBow, who died Saturday from complications related to a 2002 bicycle accident, which left him a quadriplegic.