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In memoriam: Leah Zallman, MD, MPH

It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Leah Zallman passed away on November 5th from injuries sustained in an accident earlier last week. Leah was ICH’s Director of Research, a primary care physician at East Cambridge Care Center at Cambridge Health Alliance, and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She was a generous, kind, and compassionate person whose life’s work was dedicated to social justice and caring for the most vulnerable in our community. We will miss Leah dearly and send our most heartfelt condolences to her family, friends, colleagues, patients, and all those whose lives she touched.

Leah’s obituary can be found here:

For information on how to honor Leah’s memory and support her family, please see this Meal Train page:

In remembrance of Leah, we would like to share a eulogy by David Bor, MD, founding member of ICH’s Board of Directors, Chief Academic Officer at Cambridge Health Alliance, and mentor and friend to Leah:

No children should be separated from their mother; no parent should bury her child. 

Losing Leah leaves us numb. Heartbroken. Leah had it all: vitality, generosity and brilliance. She could do it all. And she did it all. 

Leah wrote, “(my) passion arises from a deep belief that all humans have a right to health care, and that as a physician researcher, I have a role to play in elevating the voices of the most vulnerable.”  She pursued that task with zest.  One by one, Leah cared for immigrants in her clinical practice in East Cambridge. She reached out to policy makers about improving access not just to healthcare but to food, housing and other health determinants.  And she published fifty probing research papers in leading health journals.

The culmination of Leah’s scholarly efforts at CHA and the Institute for Community Health was to be announced this month: her founding the “Center for Immigrant Health Research”.  Her research documented the strengths and plight of immigrant communities. As she wrote, “this is a time when our country deeply relies on immigrants and at the same time is advancing policies that are harmful to immigrants. “  Leah became the premier researcher in the field. It was time to establish a center!

How did she do it all? We will never know. Parenting with Nadav and mothering Eli and Kai were her greatest joys. Somehow she balanced life at home and at work. At work, we knew her as a quick study. She wrote well and rapidly. When she made commitments, she satisfied them fully and promptly. I noticed recently (only recently) that she finally learned to say “no” to a few of those frequent requests for one more consultation. She was extraordinarily productive despite such a brief professional life. 

Leah, the granddaughter of immigrants, was born in Panama, grew up in Washington DC and attended Swarthmore College and NYU Medical School. She trained in internal medicine at Boston Medical Center and then joined us at CHA as a Harvard General Medicine Fellow. We were delighted to welcome Leah to our medical staff as a primary care doc and researcher. In a brief eight years on faculty, Leah established herself as one of our most adept clinicians, teachers, mentors, and health policy researchers and innovators. 

Leah’s passion was contagious. She spoke at vivaci pace, almost seeming breathless. Yet, she never seemed hurried.  Leah was an exceedingly generous mentor to students and colleagues. She shrugged off adulation. Upon receiving the national award for best presentation at a medical meeting, she merely smiled. But she beamed with pride when she showed off her beautiful newborns to the office.  While Leah toiled for those who are marginalized and whose lives were so disrupted, she always projected optimism.  Leah brought sunshine to the dark places in life. 

I saw in Leah, the future of academics at CHA. She brimmed with new ideas. She would be our future leader who set the visionary agenda, modeled the standards, motivated excellence.  Leah put her heart in all she did and gave her heart to all she knew and to many she’ll never know.