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KU to honor health care pioneer in Overland Park

Friday, April 10, 2015

LAWRENCE — When HIV first began to appear in the Kansas City area, treatment options were scarce. Few physicians were familiar with the virus, and many lacked resources to care for patients. With nowhere to refer her patients, a University of Kansas alumna took on the challenge herself.

Sharon Lee, who was one of the first physicians to care for HIV patients in Kansas City, will be recognized as a Distinguished Alumna of the KU College of Liberal Arts & Sciences in an event at the Edwards Campus.

The public is invited to attend a Q & A session and reception to honor Lee  at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 17, at Regnier Auditorium, 12600 Quivira Road, Overland Park. The event is free, but RSVPs are requested.

Lee is known in the Kansas City area for making health care accessible and affordable for patients, regardless of their ability to pay. She graduated in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology before going on to graduate in 1982 with a doctor of medicine from the KU School of Medicine.

After graduating, Lee looked for opportunities to treat those who wouldn’t otherwise have access to health services. To help keep Kansans from slipping through the cracks, she established her own clinic called Family Health CARE Services in 1989. The clinic was created to serve all people, established on an egalitarian basis, with all staff (including Lee) paid the same modest hourly wage.

Initially, the clinic provided basic preventative and diagnostic care. Throughout the past 25 years, however, its services and offerings have expanded dramatically. Her clinic first grew when it began to serve HIV patients. As other major public health issues have emerged, the services for clients have changed as well.

Lee and her team offer a wide range of services, including family-focused legal aid programs, literacy assessment and GED completion programs, dental, mental health and fitness-focused education and classes.

As an undergraduate at KU between the late ’60s and early ’70s, Lee was a student during a period of great unrest in both the university and nation’s history. The lasting effect from these experiences for Lee was a desire to help people and be of service throughout her career.

Her passion and empathy for others led Lee to consider a variety of paths. She changed her major a few times, studying speech therapy, law and chemistry before deciding on a psychology major.

“The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences was kind of like stepping into a big hall with lots of open doorways. I could walk down the hall and peek into some of the rooms and decide which ones I really wanted to enter,” she said. “It was important to have all that flexibility because I was growing so much with all of the other experiences in my life.”

The College selected three Distinguished Alumni awardees for 2014-’15: Lee; conceptual Native American artist Edgar Heap of Birds; and influential geologist William Fisher. It is the highest honor bestowed upon KU liberal arts and sciences graduates. More information on all recipients is available on the College’s blog.

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences is KU's broadest, most diverse academic unit. Through innovative research and teaching, the College encourages learning without boundaries in its more than 50 departments, programs and centers.