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Dr. Ellis Lipsitz: Dedicated physician

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 26, 2010 - In an age of increasing specialization, Dr. Ellis Lipsitz was known for his versatility. At a time when many doctors were growing increasingly distant from their patients, "Elly" Lipsitz was known for the compassion he brought to his work. Over a career that spanned a half-century, Dr. Lipsitz treated servicemen in the Philippines, the destitute in the inner city and patients far and wide for maladies that included venereal disease, tuberculosis, obesity, tobacco addiction and panic attacks.

Dr. Lipsitz died Thursday of infirmities at the Sunrise Senior Living facility in Richmond Heights. He was 90 years old. A funeral service will be held at 9 a.m. Sun., March 28at Berger Memorial Chapel, 4715 McPherson Ave.

Dr. Lipsitz grew up in St. Louis, the son of Samuel and Babette Lipsitz. Samuel Lipsitz, also a physician, was greatly admired for working with indigent patients in the inner city. He died at age 36 after acquiring an infection from a patient whom he had been treating. His son, Ellis, was then just 2 years old, but the boy would hear stories about his dad's selflessness from his mother and others who benefited from his kindnesses. Ellis Lipsitz resolved to be that kind of doctor himself.

Elly, as he was called by family, friends and many patients, was an excellent student, graduating from Soldan High School at age 16 and going on to Yale University. He earned his medical degree from St. Louis University Medical School.

Dr. Lipsitz was trained as internist with a specialty in chest diseases. But with the onset of World War II, he served as the head of psychiatry in the Philippines. Oddly, he would recall, that included treating servicemen for venereal disease along with mental illnesses. Dr. Lipsitz could adapt. In fact, his exposure to psychiatry led him to an interest in hypnosis, which would come into play later in his medical career.

When Dr. Lipsitz returned to St. Louis he affiliated with both Jewish Hospital and the now defunct Koch Hospital. Koch Hospital had been used as a quarantine facility for tuberculosis patients. Tuberculosis had long been a scourge in St. Louis and other cities. But in the 1950s and 1960s, physicians and researchers were developing an array of effective treatments. The key to treating TB was early diagnosis and then getting patients to stay on their meds. Dr. Lipsitz could be counted on to perservere with his patients.

"Many of his patients had alcohol or drug problems," recalled Dr. Irwin Schultz, a longtime friend and colleague. "He had a remarkable attitude toward the patients. No matter how bad things got for them, he would stay with them and help them."

His daughter, Suzy Cornbleet, recalled that her dad would see a wide array of patients of modest means, sometimes accepting payment in food or handicrafts, just like his father once did.

Suzy was also one of his patients. At age 8, Suzy was still sucking her thumb, couldn't stop and was quite embarrassed about it. Dr. Lipsitz decided to see if hypnosis, which he had been studying, would provide a cure.

It did. But that wasn't the end of it. Dr. Lipsitz helped Suzy through two natural childbirths for daughters Amy and Molly with his hypnosis techniques.

"The nurses were amazed," Suzy said. "I never yelled or screamed. I became one of his best subjects."

Dr. Lipsitz probably used hypnosis most often on patients who were trying to quit smoking. Suzy Cornbleet estimated that hundreds benefited. A former patient, Joanne Greene of west St. Louis County, said Dr. Lipsitz helped her overcome panic attacks with hypnosis, which she described as simply a way of making you relax.

Greene said she experienced her first attack in the early 1970s when her heart started racing and sights and sounds suddenly became more vivid and surreal. "I called him from a parking lot outside a Venture store," Greene remembered. "Those were the days when you could actually speak to a doctor and not have to go through voice mails. He said, 'Come on down, I'm going to teach you hypnosis.'

Greene said that to this day she uses the hypnosis/relaxation techniques that Dr. Lipsitz taught her. "He was a great diagnostician," Greene said, "and a totally accessible doctor."

Dr. Lipsitz's attentiveness paid off for Greene and her family in other ways. One day, also in the 1970s, Dr. Lipsitz noticed that Greene's stepfather, Don Simon, was looking pallid. He suggested that Simon see a cardiologist. A quadruple bypass followed that checkup -- and Don Simon is alive and well today.

Dr. Lipsitz is known to many as their camp doctor. He spent 18 summers at Camp Wah-KonDah at the Lake of the Ozarks. He enjoyed fishing, playing tennis and was waterskiing well into his 70s.

Surviving along with daughter, Suzy (Jim Cornbleet), is another daughter, Judy (David) Capes; two sons, David A. (Judy) Lipsitz and Thomas S. (Robyn) Lipsitz, a brother Robert (Janice) Lipsitz; 11 grandchildren, Daniel (Crystal) Lipsitz and Emily Lipsitz, Adam (Rachelle) Capes, Betsy (fiance Mark Kaplan) Capes and Jodie (Daniel) Fogler, Wendy (David) Berry, Julie and Jamie Lipsitz, Amy (Josh) Chatten, Molly Cornbleet and Sam Lipsitz; and four great-grandchildren, Abigail Lipsitz, Chloe and Aidan Capes and Mason Berry.

There will be no visitation prior to the service Sunday at Berger Memorial Chapel. Private interment. Memorial contributions preferred to the Alzheimer's Association, 9374 Olive Blvd., 63132 or to the charity of your choice.