Last Thursday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of San Marino resembled “old home week” considering the reunion of longtime friends and associates who assembled at San Marino Community Church.
Dr. Lee Zuckerman was the keynote speaker but he brought with him a man who needed little introduction to the community of San Marino – Phil Ryan, a longtime math teacher and coach at San Marino High School who led both the Titans’ cross country and track teams for several decades and Zuckerman remains positively affected and influenced by their long associaten, and vice versa.
“He is a great guy,” said Ryan after the meeting. “He is so articulate.”
He is also very competent. Zuckerman is now an orthopedic oncologist at City of Hope, which he called a “rare specialty.” Zuckerman and his colleagues treat benign and malignant tumors of the arms, legs and pelvis including sarcoma, which appears mostly in children.
“I take cancer out and put things back together,” said Zuckerman.
Zuckerman said that City of Hope actually began as a sanatorium created to treat tuberculosis before expanding to multiple locations.
Zuckerman told the very personal story about his parents, who escaped persecution during the Great Depression. His father eventually became a neurosurgeon and launched his son’s theme of believing in what is possible.
The younger Zuckerman showed photographs to the audience of Edwin Moses running at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. One of the photos was of Zuckerman and some friends who carried the torch to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that kicked off that Olympiad.
Zuckerman also showed photos of Terry Fox, who had sarcoma and ran 3,400 miles to help in the fight against the disease.
“He inspired millions of people throughout the world,” said Zuckerman, who connected a direct line between Rotary and his own sense of community service.
Then I met Mr. Ryan…said Zuckerman, who immediately looked in his mentor’s direction.
“He was always running,” said Zuckerman.
“How can you let this old guy beat you?” Zuckerman said, reflecting the opinions of many of his classmates.
Zuckerman told a story about how he once suffered from Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome, a condition that affected the electrical wiring of his heart when running.
“I went to the ICU after a racene day and the only person to visit me was Phil Ryan,” he said “That meant a lot to me.”
Zuckerman also proudly brandished a RYLA sweatshirt from his days at SMHS. RYLA stands for Rotary Youth Leadership Awards, an intensive program for students that Zuckerman participated in.
“Not bad, huh.” he joked. “Thirty years later and it still fits.”
Zuckerman developed a desire to ride a bike through China, which he did later in life. At the urging of former San Marino Unified School District Superintendent Jack Rose, he also partnered with the Asian Pacific Family Center to help raise much-needed funding.
He later ran marathons and has even done some triathalons.
Zuckerman became emotional when talking abut Ryan’s daughter Claire, who lost a battle with cancer. Zuckerman donated to a charity that was launched in Claire’s name and purchased a reading bench in her name.
Zuckerman also mentioned recent treatments for cancer patients where doctors “trick” bone into growing or shortening. He also mentioned a surgery he once performed on a person who had a basketball-sized tumor on his pelvis. The surgery lasted twenty-four hours. Unfortunately the patient did not survive it.
Zuckerman also mentioned how one of his patients once received a soccer uniform from Cristiano Ronaldo that the soccer icon provided as a gift. He also mentioned how he cured a patient whose only goal was to wear Converse shoes again.
He also mentioned his association with Dr. Scott Nelson of Loma Linda Medical Center, who has treated patients in Haiti.
Most recently Zuckerman received a diploma of mountain medicine.