In Memoriam: Michael Ip
Posted on Wednesday, July 28, 2021
By Michelle Read
Michael Ip could toss a well-timed zinger; never hurtful, his quips would invariably prompt peals of laughter from friends and colleagues.
But alongside the gentle, funny Michael was a humble yet keen researcher, driven to have an impact on people’s lives. Prior to his diagnosis, he was knee-deep in research aiming to open up conversations about the end-of-life care that people desire for themselves.
"Michael’s work is now helping bridge the gap between the hospital-based palliative care most patients receive, and the home-based care most yearn for,” says Dr. Peter Tanuseputro.
“And partly because his work explored the different end-of-life care options, he and his family were able to facilitate his own end-of-life wishes, as well.”
Numerically oriented from childhood, Michael earned a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics at Queen’s University. He had aspirations in big data and machine learning—both hot topics in epidemiology—so he took on a summer student position in the lab of Dr. Tanuseputro, a clinician scientist with the Department of Medicine, The Ottawa Hospital and the Bruyère Research Institute. Dr. Tanuseputro and his team conduct health services research to improve the health care provided to Canadians, particularly palliative care.
As Michael worked, he contemplated additional studies that would best contribute to the lab’s research goals. He settled on a Masters of Epidemiology, which he began at the Faculty’s School of Epidemiology and Public Health in 2017, supervised by Dr. Amy Hsu, Dr. Doug Manuel and Dr. Tanuseputro.
Michael’s father, Joseph, says his son built a very strong friendship with Dr. Tanuseputro, who had great influence on the development of Michael’s research interests.
Michael dove into his thesis, exploring machine learning and artificial intelligence to enhance the algorithm behind the team’s online RESPECT tool1. Drs. Manuel, Hsu and Tanuseputro encouraged Michael to run with it, which he did with zeal.
Designed to give prognoses to frail individuals so they can make better decisions about end-of-life care, the tool promotes discussions about palliative issues that Canadians are not typically comfortable talking about.
Four out of five Ontarians wish to have their end-of-life care at home, and yet only one in five patients receives palliative care at home. Aware of these statistics, Michael worked hard to improve the tool’s algorithm, knowing the role it could play in opening up discussion.
“Michael’s research has been essential in generating a more accurate life expectancy,” says Dr. Tanuseputro. “It’s important to get conversations started early between patients, families and caregivers, so that more of their wishes for end-of-life care can be accommodated. It’s a complex topic, and not many people are aware of the at-home supports available to them.”
Michael could not have known the profound role his research would play in his own life.
He was just polishing his thesis in preparation for its defense—he had planned to graduate in the summer of 2020—when he received his diagnosis of leukemia.
Much of Michael’s care was in the hospital; confinement to his room, as with any hospital stay, was a tough transition for a patient who grew up playing soccer and performing improv on stage. Visitors were limited to just his parents due to COVID restrictions, heartbreaking for the very social Michael.
Michael was, by now, well-educated on his options for adapting his care to a home environment, and he worked with his family and caregivers to move his care home. No longer confined to a bed or visitor restrictions, he revelled in the comforts of home. Endless guests were welcomed into the Ip house for laughter-filled visits and generous helpings of Michael’s famous homemade Tiramisu.
“His joy at being home was apparent,” says Dr. Tanuseputro, a regular visitor. “He had more energy and was far happier than had he chosen to stay in the hospital, and it may even have extended his time.”
After a 10-month journey with the disease, Michael died at home.
Research colleague Mary Scott remembers Michael as a respectable colleague with a great heart.
“He was a fun-loving, introverted guy who was lovely to work with on projects,” she says. “He was intelligent and caring, always there to provide a listening ear or suggest a solution if asked. And yes, he was a great baker.”
Also part of his large circle of friends was Wenshan Li, who began in the same master of epidemiology cohort as Michael and was part of his research team.
“He had such courage and love for life, even in his final days,” she recalls. “He was quiet and easy-going, and we all know how caring he was through his actions.” She predicts a lasting impact of his work on the team’s future research.
Michael’s family remembers him as a decent, beautiful human being, helpful and fun, and caring toward those close to him. He enjoyed life, and with his appetite for learning, threw himself into the activities he loved. He wanted his work to help people and found a great fit with the team at the Faculty of Medicine.
Efforts to honour Michael and his kind, generous spirit have been ongoing at the Faculty of Medicine. The Tanuseputro lab is creating a scholarship to send students to the annual CAHSPR conference, which Michael loved attending. A scholarship is also in development at the Faculty of Medicine, with details to come.
As well, cognizant of the huge value of Michael’s work to palliative patients and their families who want them home again, Dr. Hsu hopes to finalize and publish Michael’s master’s thesis for the world to see, cite and learn from.
Michael Ip experienced in his life an incredible synchronicity of fates. Beloved by all who knew him, he now returns that love by offering to society the same opportunities he had: final days filled with friendship, humanity and dignity, and the chance to say a proper goodbye to those he loved.
Michael had travelled the world during his life, from Hong Kong to Hawaii and everything in between. But the voyage that meant the most to him may well have been his trip home.
That personal, powerful option was his biggest wish for his fellow Canadians.
View Michael Ip’s obituary.
View more photos and watch Dr. Peter Tanuseputro deliver a touching tribute to Michael Ip (13:18 of video) at an in-house graduation celebration for the School of Epidemiology and Public Health. Michael’s family were invited to participate and shared photos for the slide show.
1 Read more about the Risk-Evaluation for Support: Predictions for Elder-Life in the Community Tool (RESPECT), recently published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Dr. Tanuseputro estimates that over 700,000 people have used the tool around the world so far.
Main photo credit: Wenshan Li
Sidebar photo credits: The Ip family