We readily acknowledge that there is no justice in the world, but when the fact kicks us viciously in the gut we cannot help but bristle: How is it that such a young, healer of men, father of three evanescent little girls and beloved husband can be taken just as his contributions to the world were in full bloom? We want/need to place blame: Life for not playing by our perceived rules, God for not listening to our prayers and even medicine for failing to find a cure for brain cancer.
Dr. Lawrence P. Wegrzyn, 34, died Wednesday morning after a years-long struggle with a rare form of cancer known as an ependymoma. Even the diagnosis seemed to be mocking us. Ependymoma is most common in children and it typically starts in the spine.
After four brain surgeries to remove tumors, radiation, chemotherapy and a brief series of treatments in a clinical trial, the cancer proved unstoppable. Through much of the ordeal LP continued to treat patients of his own at Uvalde Family Practice, which he and his wife, Alex, purchased in 2016 from longtime physicians Rick Lutton and Steve Garza.
LP loved being a doctor. He loved using the skills acquired through the rigors of medical school and residency to make people better and especially to deliver new life through obstetrics. Most of all, he loved to interact with people from all walks of life. He wore the joy of living in a bright, toothsome smile that seldom left his face, even as he endured his own difficult treatments.
He and Alexandra Tarski met as undergraduates at Regis University in Denver. From the beginning it must have seemed as though each had inputed into some 3D human printer the traits they found most desirable in a mate and out popped an Alex and LP. If they were sitting or standing together, they were touching – connected physically, psychologically and spiritually. In fact, as the cancer deepened its presence, it was the fear of the disease stealing LP’s brilliant mind before it took his life that Alex could not abide.
Through it all, they found humor and strength in each other, their faith and family. And they fought to shield the three girls from as much of the tragedy as is possible. Not an easy task with whip-smart children like Olivia, Charlotte and Angelina who can see through most adult-inspired ruses. In a moment of much-needed levity with friends, Alex quipped that LP had it easy compared with her if she had to raise the three girls alone. LP would have howled at that, because he loved everything about his Uvalde-raised attorney wife. She was his soulmate – and vice versa.
LP’s other love was the outdoors. As a youth growing up in Colorado, he reveled in snow skiing, fishing, water skiing and scuba diving in Cozumel. After moving to Texas, he quickly adapted to hunting deer, hogs, birds and most any sport that involved firing a gun. If his grin could grow any wider, it was in the field, hunting with friends or schooling the girls in the glories of nature.
Two years ago, LP wrote a column that appeared in this newspaper extolling the virtues of the hospice program operated by Uvalde Memorial Hospital under the direction of Dr. Sameta Sosa. At the time, there were rumblings that the hospital might discontinue the service.
Ironically, it was that very program that stepped in when the end drew near for LP. “I have seen my own family members rely on hospice care in their last days, and feel so proud to have such an essential service provided by the hospital that serves my community,” the doctor wrote in September of 2017. “Death is something we all face, but we do not have to face it alone.”
The disease that took LP was tragic, but his life was no tragedy. He lived fully, happily and engaged in the present in a quest to heal, soothe, build up and make laugh his family, patients and legions of friends. His is no longer a physical presence, but the good doctor’s rich life will continue to remind us not only how to face death but how to live.
Craig Garnett is publisher of the Uvalde Leader-News.