IBJNews

2011 Health Care Heroes: Gregory P. Gramelspacher

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Health Care HeroesWINNER: Physician

Gregory P. Gramelspacher, MD

Professor of Medicine; Director, Palliative Care Program, Wishard Health Services; Director, Palliative Medicine Fellowship, Indiana University School of Medicine

gramelspacher-gregory (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Gregory Gramelspacher, M.D., intended to enter law school after graduating from Notre Dame. But a year in Bangladesh volunteering with the World Hunger Coalition changed his career path to medicine. The thousands of people he has helped as director of the Palliative Care Program for Wishard Health Services are very glad he did.

When Gramelspacher, 57, joined the faculty of the Indiana University School of Medicine in 1989, his responsibilities included developing an ethics program and serving as an ethics consultant. He was often called to the bedside of sick and dying patients when there was conflict among family members or between the family and the doctors concerning the best course of action for the patient. Unfortunately, by the time his services were requested, many of those patients had suffered for days.

“It was one of those consults, back in 1996, that was a signature event for me to change my career path in medicine,” Gramelspacher said. “I saw the need to have doctors … help patients and families get to the end of their life in as dignified a way as possible, with as little suffering as possible, with as much support as possible. We needed to move upstream and provide palliative care consults.”

That became his mission and passion. He applied for funding, lobbied and finally gained approval to start the program.

For the first seven years, it was a one-man show, with Gramelspacher on-call 24/7. “This was a brand new field,” Gramelspacher said. “So I just started asking doctors if I could help them with their problem patients—the ones that came to the hospital frequently or who weren’t able to grasp the severity of their illness or come to terms with the fact that their life was winding down.”

That’s how he met “Cowboy,” a 73-year-old lung cancer patient, with emphysema and an attitude, who routinely disappeared from the hospital. Gramelspacher, or “Dr. G” as staff and patients affectionately call him, earned Cowboy’s trust and learned that he lived under the underpass at 16th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Street, in his “cave.” He also revealed he had a dog named “Cowgirl.” Cowboy’s daily disappearing acts involved collecting food scraps to take to her. Despite attempts to get Cowboy housing, he always ended up back at the cave. Gramelspacher brought him a gas generator and a space heater, and when it turned bitterly cold, took him to a hotel. Cowboy was finally admitted to a nursing home, and when it came time, Gramelspacher arranged for Cowgirl to join him. She was in his arms when he passed peacefully.

This is just one story of many that illustrate Gramelspacher’s compassion and concern for patients who are vulnerable, confused, scared and sometimes facing death alone. That’s why he’s a Health Care Hero.

“It’s an extraordinary privilege to be able to come to work each day and make a difference for people who nobody really cares about,” Gramelspacher said. “It all seems so natural, really.”

It may come naturally to Gramelspacher, but many physicians are at a loss for words and actions when it comes to dealing with the inevitable.

“Palliative care is all about dealing with challenging emotions, going deep into the needs of patients and families to join them in their journeys, being present, honoring and healing them through whatever each day brings,” said Reverend Karen Estle, spiritual advisor to the palliative care team. “Dr. Greg Gramelspacher is the teacher, the director, the guiding force in Wishard Hospital’s nationally recognized palliative care team.”

Today the palliative care program at Wishard has seen more than 4,000 patients. Under Gramelspacher’s leadership, it has received prestigious awards, including the American Hospital Association’s Circle of Life Award, and the National Association of Public Hospitals’ Jim Wright Safety Net Award. On the program’s 10th anniversary, Gramelspacher trekked from California to South Carolina on a bicycle. Dubbed the “Ride to Remember” he rode in remembrance of the people the program had served and to raise awareness of the dying poor.

“Our excellent palliative care program would not have become a reality without Greg’s imagination, determination, powerful persuasive personality, and single-minded passionate devotion toward providing comprehensive and compassionate end of life care for the poorest in our community,” said Meg Gaffney, M.D., chairwoman of the Wishard Ethics Committee.

Gramelspacher’s efforts go beyond the program. He partnered with the Visiting Nurse Service to establish the Abbie Hunt Bryce Home, a home for terminal patients without financial resources, and he supports the Pro Bono Palliative Care Program, which provides Wishard patients with needed legal assistance. He also established the IU Palliative Medicine Fellowship at Indiana University and serves as its director. Currently three Fellows are training to become specialists in palliative care.

What’s next for Gramelspacher?

“I’m very interested in building our program here at Wishard,” he said, “but I want to metastasize it across campus and establish programs at Riley, University, Methodist and the VA. Then I want to find some Kenya champions to build capacity for palliative care in Kenya. If I can do anything to improve the situation for dying patients in that little piece of the world, I would be real happy.”•

____

Click here to return to the Health Care Heroes landing page.

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Hope for the right thing
    Two comments: I'd like to note that Methodist, University and the VA Hospitals all have established Palliative Care programs. In addition, Riley Hospital is recruiting physician leadership for their program. Also, I don't believe that hope is ever gone. As T.S. Eliot would say, we need to "hope for the right thing"

    I am very honored to receive this award on behalf of the thousands of patients who come to Wishard for help.
  • Great News
    Very nice to know a native Jasper, IN kid, who is one year older than I, get recognized for his medical greatness. So happy that some of the people from Greg's hometown, took the time to relate this story to us back home! Congrats, Dr. Greg!
  • Dr. Greg is a GameChanger
    I'm glad to see Dr. Greg, whom I've known since were were kids growing up in southern Indiana, get recognized for the amazing work he does. See how he says he'd like to 'metastasize' the Palliative Care program? 'Metastasize' is a word that, like 'death,' we usually hear as a negative. Turning negatives into positives is Greg's talent. In his lexicon, metastasize becomes a good thing, a gift, an opportunity to hold one another in higher regard. His program creates opportunities for nd-of-life patients to re-connect with families, re-discover their dignity, and achieve a kind of peace they would not know without the programs and facilities he has helped guild. For more on the beautiful story of Cowboy and Cowgirl: http://www.gamechangers.com/index.html/archives/265

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. So much for Eric Holder's conversation about race. If white people have got something to say, they get sued over it. Bottom line: white people have un-freer speech than others as a consequence of the misnamed "Civil rights laws."

  2. I agree, having seen three shows, that I was less than wowed. Disappointing!!

  3. Start drilling, start fracking, and start using our own energy. Other states have enriched their citizens and nearly elminated unemployment by using these resources that are on private land. If you are against the 'low prices' of discount stores, the best way to allow shoppers more choice is to empower them with better earnings. NOT through manipulated gov mandated min wage hikes, but better jobs and higher competitive pay. This would be direct result of using our own energy resources, yet Obama knows that Americans who arent dependent of gov welfare are much less likely to vote Dem, so he looks for ways to ensure America's decline and keep its citizens dependent of gov.

  4. Say It Loud, I'm Black and Ashamed: It's too bad that with certain "black" entertainment events, it seems violence and thuggery follows and the collateral damage that it leaves behinds continues to be a strain on the city in terms of people getting hurt, killed or becoming victims of crimes and/or stretching city resources. I remember shopping in the Meadows area years ago until violence and crime ended make most of the business pack you and leave as did with Lafayette Square and Washington Square. Over the past 10 to 12 years, I remember going to the Indiana Black Expo Soul Picnic in Washington Park. Violence, gang fights and homicides ended that. My great grandmother still bears the scares on her leg from when she was trampled by a group of thugs running from gun fire from a rival gang. With hundreds of police offices downtown still multiple shootings, people getting shot downtown during Black Expo. A number of people getting shots or murdered at black clubs around the city like Club Six on the west side, The Industry downtown, Jamal Tinsley's shot out in front of the Conrad, multiple fights and shootings at the skating rinks, shootings at Circle Center Mall and shooting and robberies and car jackings at Lafayette Mall. Shootings and gang violence and the State Fair. I can go on and on and on. Now Broad Ripple. (Shaking head side to side) Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Ashamed.

  5. Ballard Administration. Too funny. This is the least fiscally responsive administration I have ever seen. One thing this article failed to mention, is that the Hoosier State line delivers rail cars to the Amtrak Beech Grove maintenance facility for refurbishment. That's an economic development issue. And the jobs there are high-paying. That alone is worth the City's investment.

ADVERTISEMENT