Mountain Medicine: Practicing Meaningful Medicine
This is the third and final installment in Leadville Today’s series: Mountain Medicine. Part One introduced readers to Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger, Leadville’s first female physician. Part Two reported about Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP) and the healthcare services they provide in Lake County. Today, LT readers are given Part Three, which offers some insight into the future of healthcare in North America’s Highest City:Leadville.
by Brennan Ruegg, Leadville Today Contributor
Many seek the mountains for healing, whether physical or spiritual. Through nature, isolation, or a purposeful role in a small community, the high country offers an improved life – in more than silver and gold – for those who go looking for it.
Healthcare has changed through the last century, from survival to meaningful medicine. While mining and mountaineering continue today with their usual dangers, a 21st-century mountain town, vaccinated and kept mostly warm through the winter, survives to a different standard. Clean air, water, and a wholesome lifestyle, along with mental health, freedom from addictions, and a better, more organic diet are now the peak priorities. While it’s easy to fall into persistent cure-seeking, most of the above-mentioned ailments are best battled with a strong will, and an equally willful support system.
Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger has been that support system for many in Leadville, who uses her growing relationships to make a round-table of service providers available to the people in her community. This year, RMFP celebrated ten years in business. And once built, it didn’t take long for it to blossom, and attract the other services that have gathered in and grown around it.
Aside from the practitioners at RMFP, both Cloud City Medical, providing medical equipment and supplies, and counselor Dr. Teresa Haynes are housed in The Leadville Professional Building which is anchored by RMFP. Solvista Health is located across the way on Highway 24 South. Continuing to develop a medical hub in the heart of Lake County that expands every year, is exactly what’s in store moving into the next decade. Click to connect to a list of all providers at RMFP.
Paralleling the life of her business, Dr. Lisa also starts a new chapter, personally. Like many successful professionals, her twenties were focused on her education. In her thirties, she worked to acquire wealth and adventure. In her forties she became a mother and learned about what it takes to raise a family. Now, at fifty, her focus shifts to peace and simplicity, heralded by a recalled memory.
In her formative years of practice, Dr. Lisa received some valuable insight:
“Patients were turned off, sometimes,” she explains, “I always thought, by my enthusiasm, but it was really about my aggression.”
She could have easily shrugged off the feedback and found success burning-and-turning patients in Aspen or Vail, but instead, it motivated her to change. Many of those years in her twenties she spent with an American Indian healer in her hometown of Conifer. Dr. Lisa recalls the task of long hours sitting by a stream, waiting for it to tell her something. As with any tenacious pupil, it took a long stretch of skepticism before she learned anything from the obscure lesson.
In fact, it was in 2015 when a long-time friend, reached out to Dr. Lisa after seeing her name pop up in the papers. The friend had a gift for her, something her son had made. It was a sculpture called The Healer. When Dr. Lisa saw it, she recalled what she had seen by that stream many years ago. It was an old woman with graying hair and a wrinkled face, who had already finished her education, raised a family, and tasted the clout of successful determination, but who continued her work for others, as a healer.
Today, Dr. Lisa still works every day at RMFP, but she also takes time to explore the world with her family. They have been to Nepal and Africa, learning about the way others in the world choose – or are forced – to live.
“I have a purpose in Leadville, and my purpose is to heal my community.”
Looking to the future, what does Dr. Lisa think the most pressing health issue is facing Leadville and Lake County?
“High cost,” she says promptly. And no one has battled that as fiercely as Dr. Lisa. Offering highly discounted rates for uninsured and under-served patients is what she’s known for. That, along with telling it like it is, and spending all the time that it takes to tackle a problem, to make that lasting connection with a patient.
And in a remote, mountain town like Leadville, where the quality of interdependence is magnified, practicing meaningful medicine is worth more than gold!
Brennan Ruegg is from Akron, OH, birthplace of poet Rita Dove and NBA Champion LeBron James.