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Recent grad finds a silver lining in his mentor’s passing

Dr. Tazzi at Dr. Lee’s former practice in Albion, Mich.
Dr. Tazzi standing in front of clinic

When Kirk A. Lee, D.C. (Davenport '80), suddenly passed away on Aug. 9, 2012, the Palmer community and the world lost an accomplished practitioner as well as an outstanding expert in the field of sports chiropractic. Dr. Lee not only operated a solo practice in his hometown of Albion, Mich., but frequently traveled on weekends all over the nation, even the world, to deliver lectures on sports chiropractic, and he served as team chiropractor for several sports programs in his community. This sad news came during Palmer's Davenport Campus Homecoming.

Then-student Jacob Tazzi, D.C. (Davenport '12), was in the midst of serving a preceptorship with Dr. Lee in his Albion clinic. Later, in his salutatorian acceptance speech at the October 2012 commencement ceremonies, Dr. Tazzi said, "Though the world has experienced a devastating loss with Dr. Lee's premature passing, it has allowed me to witness an outpouring of unselfish acts of giving and caring in a difficult time of need for his family, friends and patients."

"Friends and strangers from all walks of life offered to help and comfort his family in any way they could," he added. "Colleagues arrived to ensure that Dr. Lee's office would not be without a doctor, and acts of kindness surrounded me as his student, too. I was shocked that amidst such an awful scenario, his family and colleagues approached me with concerns about keeping my internship on track, while they clearly were suffering from a very unexpected and painful loss."

These acts of kindness included the efforts of David Patterson, M.A., D.C. (Davenport '86), a Davenport Campus Technique Department faculty member who was a friend of Dr. Lee's and had helped Jacob attain his preceptorship at Dr. Lee's clinic. "After Dr. Lee's unfortunate departure last August, Jacob was suddenly part of a clinic without a licensed, lead doctor on site," Dr. Patterson says. "Therefore, he would have to leave Dr. Lee's clinic and locate another clinic to preceptor in or return to Davenport to complete his credits for graduation."

Dr. Patterson immediately contacted a colleague of his, Jason Stanczak, D.C. (Davenport '05), of Roseville, Mich., who, without hesitation, stepped forward and offered Jacob a place in his clinic to complete the remaining preceptorship experience.

However, Dr. Patterson was also hoping for another option, and that was to keep Dr. Lee's clinic open so that it would continue caring for patients uninterrupted. Therefore, he began searching for Palmer alumni in Michigan who could help out. With the assistance of two remarkable students, he soon discovered that Ervin Malcheff, D.C. (Davenport '69), member of the Palmer Board of Trustees and long-time friend of Dr. Lee's, was also attending Homecoming.

"Here was the dilemma," Dr. Malcheff says. "Jacob was approximately half-way through his preceptorship. Dr. Lee's widow, Terri, had to close the office until she could either locate a locum tenens practitioner or someone to purchase the practice. In order to circumvent this loss of time for the preceptor, Dr. Patterson asked if I knew of anyone in Michigan who could mentor Jacob through the remainder of his preceptorship, which would take approximately eight weeks."

Serendipitous timing comes into play at this point. "As luck would have it, I retired from active practice on Aug. 13, 2012," Dr. Malcheff says, "and was available to accept this opportunity to work with Jacob for the balance of his preceptorship. Dr. Lee's office is only 30 miles from my home. At that point, the Palmer office that directs the College's preceptorship program stepped up to formalize the change in Dr. Tazzi's preceptorship. My role was to be on the premises and able to assist Jacob at any time during office hours. I elected to stay out of the adjusting rooms unless Jacob requested my assistance. We had lunch together each day to discuss the patients for the day. If all of our graduates are as competent and proficient as Jacob, and I believe they are, the future of our profession is in good hands. I believe the clinical training our students receive is second to none."

For his part, Dr. Tazzi is incredibly grateful for Dr. Malcheff's generous gift of his time and experience, as well as Dr. Patterson's efforts to find someone to keep Dr. Lee's practice and Jacob's preceptorship going. "My unending thanks goes to Dr. Patterson for providing the connection to Dr. Malcheff and giving me the support I needed at a difficult time," he says. "What Dr. Malcheff did was completely selfless, and I'm not sure I will ever meet a man that is so giving without expecting anything in return. The whole experience was a humbling demonstration of charity and a willingness to help others in crisis and need. We have some of the most giving and sincere doctors on the planet helping people restore their lives with dignity."

Jacob concluded his graduation speech this way: "I truly believe that I gained more of an education (at Palmer) than one could ever put a price on. Not just academically, but the lessons I have learned have been on the need to be there for others, the importance of family and friends, and supporting and maintaining professional relationships with fellow colleagues. My only hope is to somehow give back to the profession and serve to be at least half as influential as my mentors have been to me throughout these past few months."

And if all of this isn't enough of a silver lining to the passing of a great Palmer chiropractor, there is more. "After the loss of Dr. Kirk, the Lee family worked with me to help with a smooth transition," Dr. Tazzi adds. "Dr. Lee left some pretty large shoes to fill, but I have made it my mission to continue his legacy by keeping the day-to-day operations very similar to how they were carried out previously. My goal is to continue to provide the same quality of care to the Albion community that Dr. Lee had given over the past 30 years."

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