Overcoming Obstacles, Looking to the Future


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OLIVER LEE, 18
HIGH SCHOOL: New Roads School
GOING TO: California Lutheran University

Between visiting patients at CedarsSinai Medical Center and making lunches for the homeless, high school senior Oliver Lee has gained perspective beyond his 18 years. “[Volunteering] gives me a sense of purpose,” he said.

His life experiences, too, have informed his wisdom. Lee was born with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes the brain to swell due to the accumulation of fluid. He also has a life-threatening allergy to latex. And when he was in middle school, bullies threw a book at him. The book caught the corner of his eye, dislodged the muscle and eventually caused diplopia (double vision). Lee changed schools. 

These experiences, he said, have motivated him to give back. They also have pushed him to pursue a career in medicine. This fall, he plans to study biology with an emphasis in pre-medicine at California Lutheran University.

“I’ve always had an interest in the human body, anatomy, biology, and I guess the fact that I’ve had over 30 surgeries has played a major role in why I want to get into medicine,” he said.

As an only child, Lee is close to his parents. His father is an architect and his mother is a graphic designer. He is proud of his Jewish heritage. His mother’s last name is Spitalny, which is Polish for “of the hospital.” Lee’s ancestors were doctors who fled Poland and Russia during the Russo-Japanese War. His grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather consecrated Congregation Beth Israel, the first synagogue in Phoenix.

“I guess the fact that I’ve had over 30 surgeries has played a major role in why I want to get into medicine.”

“I see Judaism not just as a religion but more so a sense of community and a sense of people, friends and family, who can come together and talk about their struggles and bonds based on history and tradition and be together,” he said. “That’s what Judaism is for me.”

Lee juggles his interests with a passion for the arts. Prism eyeglasses have corrected his double vision, and he has honed his photography skills, capturing textured objects in nature and experimenting with the color and monochromatic settings on his SLR camera. 

No Instagram filters for this budding artist.

In his free time, Lee enjoys mountain biking with his father. He’s also found an outlet in improvisational comedy and has taken several improv-comedy classes at The Groundlings in West Hollywood.

“Not that I intend to be on television or be in the movies, but that’s a space for me to play with my emotions and express myself,” he said.

Ultimately, the future M.D.’s M.O. is overcoming that which is beyond his control, whether bullying or a latex allergy, to live his best life.

“I don’t let that personally define me as a person. I am Oliver Lee,” he said. “I’m not Oliver Lee with this and this and this who was bullied.”

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