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Penn Vet Stories


In Memoriam: Dr. Lesley King, Pioneer in Veterinary Critical Care

Dr. Lesley King, Penn Vet

Lesley Geraldine King, MVB, originally from Dublin, Ireland, and a resident of Coatesville, PA, died May 14, 2016, at the age of 51, after a long illness.

Dr. King, Professor of Critical Care, was a founder and pillar of critical care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) and beyond. She was instrumental in the development of the veterinary intensive care specialty, particularly in expanding and refining mechanical ventilation.

A 1986 graduate of the University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. King spent her entire career at Penn Vet, where she was responsible for training numerous emergency and critical care residents, interns, and technicians. She held leadership positions as Director of the Intensive Care Unit at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital and as President of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care. A founding Diplomate of the European College of Veterinary Internal Medicine-Companion Animals, she also served as a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.

Dr. King’s contributions to the University and to the field were recognized with the 2012 Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching from the University of Pennsylvania, the 2013 Jack Mara Scientific Achievement Award from the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, and the 2013 Ira M. Zaslow Distinguished Service Award from the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. 

A sought-after international speaker, Dr. King left lasting contributions about the treatment and diagnosis of challenging and life-threatening conditions of cats and dogs. Her research focused on respiratory failure, pulmonary medicine, applications of positive pressure ventilation in small animals, and outcome prediction in the critical small animal patient. Along with nearly 50 scientific research publications, she edited the authoritative Textbook of Respiratory Disease in Dogs and Cats, which was translated into Japanese and Spanish, and the British Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Manual of Canine and Feline Emergency and Critical Care, now in its second edition.

“Lesley was distinguished, accomplished, and passionate. She had high standards and clear thinking, and was an unmatched administrator,” said Joan C. Hendricks, VMD, PhD, the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Penn Vet’s Intensive Care Unit and the critical care specialty are in the hands of her professional children. We all mourn her loss, but are consoled by her lasting accomplishments and contributions.”

Read Full Remarks from Dean Joan Hendricks

  •  
    I was blessed to be able to speak as part of the memorial for Lesley King that was held on May 18th. I wanted to both share my thoughts more widely but also put into writing what I MEANT to say since the emotions of the day were overwhelming.
  • For Lesley, her family and friends:
    I am Joan Hendricks, and while this is a family event, I am here to speak on behalf of the Penn Vet family. I knew Lesley as central to our world. I knew she was part of other worlds but I did not realize until these last few days that she was central to all of them. We all feel we have a piece of her.
    I used to think that it was important to separate work and personal life. In my 42 years at Penn, and more than 10 as Dean, I now know that is wrong. For many of us, we love our work and we love the people we work with. That is most shown by gatherings such as these. Lesley brought her profession to her personal connections and her profession was personal.
    I first met Lesley when she was VERY young, when she came to Penn at age 23. She seemed older, because she was poised, VERY tall, and she was absolutely brilliant. She was usually the smartest person in the room, though you might not have realized it until you thought about her contributions; later, as she never drew attention to herself.

    Lesley went on to build our Intensive Care Unit, the first self-contained, fully professionally staffed 24/7 Intensive Care Unit in veterinary medicine—and I am going to say, still the best. She was part of a team that established the leading Emergency-Critical Care program—on both the New Bolton and the Philadelphia campuses. Of everything I’ve been part of, I am still perhaps most proud of this accomplishment—that we can provide care around the clock to the sickest animals, at the highest level.
     
    Lesley trained generations of students, spectacularly well. Through this and her own care for patients, and the advances she led in treatment and diagnosis, Lesley has saved hundreds and probably thousands of animal lives. She was pure—she would have argued with me about that word, and probably would have won, given that she was smarter than me. But there was a single-minded focus she brought to her patients, her clients, and her friends—and to the ICU. It is partly because of that focus that she accomplished so much in so little time. It was probably also because she could simplify the most complex idea to its purest essentials that she was such a great teacher.
     
    Since I had to announce the sad news I have found out how highly regarded Lesley was in all of her endeavors beyond those she lead for us at Penn Vet. I have letters from the Dean of her Alma mater, Dublin; from a 2d-year student, and from her equine colleagues—all wanting to do something, celebrate her, contribute. For anyone who could not be here today, please let them know there WILL be a School celebration, in the Fall, as inclusive as possible—so we can all see all the worlds she influenced.
     
    I was able to visit with Lesley a couple of times during these last weeks. During my last visit, she was fading. She gave me some eggs from those wonderful chickens, who I was also able to meet. The word that I thought of after that visit was, “sublime.’ Not the adverb (or adjective; she would have corrected me) but the verb, ‘to sublime.’ This is a chemical and alchemical term. Many of us said to each other during these last weeks that it was unreal—not unnatural but almost supernatural, to think we were losing Lesley. So after being in the presence of the paler, cooler, thinner, but still powerful phase of Lesley that I visited that day (still not 2 weeks ago), this word occurred to me and it is just right. To sublime means to move directly from solid to vapor, without passing through the usual liquid phase. Even in her final hours, Lesley was fully herself, when she was present; but she went directly into the air around us. She is in everyone she taught, loved, and healed. So now we do all have a piece of her.

Dr. King was in the presence of her closest family and friends during her last days.
She was loyal, pure in her focus, and wholly devoted to her friends, patients, students, and ICU. In the management of her illness and the grief of her loved ones, she was brave, gracious, dignified, kind, and open. In full accordance with who she was, she has taken care of those she loved, including her pet chickens, horses, dogs, and cats.  She is survived by her mother, Violet, and siblings Caroline, Suzanne, and Richard.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Dr. King’s memory for student scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Please make checks payable to the “Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania” and mail to the Penn Vet Development Office at 3800 Spruce Street, Suite 172E, Philadelphia, PA 19104.