In Memoriam

Volume 24, Number 11: November 2023
Juan Pablo Leiva Santos. Photo by Cudeca. Used with permission.

Tribute to Juan Pablo Leiva of SECPAL: A life of healing, lived with intensity

By Rafael Gómez Garcia
On behalf of Fundacíon Cudeca (Cudeca Foundation)

World Hospice & Palliative Care Day was transformed into a sad week due to the death of Juan Pablo Leiva Santos, president of SECPAL, the Spanish Society for Palliative Care. For us, it was a moment of total pain, one that goes beyond the framework of biological limits and reaches your biography, your memory. 

I met Juan Pablo in 2008, when he came from his home country, El Salvador, to do his master's degree in palliative care at Madrid Universidad Autónoma. His mentor—a mutual friend, Dr. Álvaro Gándara—guided him to choose Fundacíon Cudeca for his internship. He stayed for several months and, after finishing his master's degree early, returned to Cudeca to join the home care program. 

He went beyond the norm

He began to take interest in topics that extended beyond being a doctor in a palliative care team, such as care coordination, therapeutic alliances, research, etc. Juan Pablo Leiva also established contact with the local nephrology services, becoming interested in the distinctions and challenges of the end of life of these patients. At the same time, he studied to acquire medical specialization in Spain; in just a few months of intensive studying he passed the exam, leading him to Segovia where he began to train in family and community medicine. While there, in 2012, he organized the first meeting on renal palliative care at “Parador de la Granja,” which began an alliance with SECPAL, a line of work that has been very productive throughout the years and continues today. 

Early days of Juan Pablo Leva Santos at Cudeca with nurse Rosa Cazorla. Photo by Cudeca. Used with permission.

Since his return to Spain four years ago, his work to advance palliative care has been very worthy and his network of alliances grew every day. Many who are reading this memorial are connected to each other by a network whose node was Juan Pablo Leiva. 

Even his hobbies became integrated with care

Perhaps less known, though still related to health care, was Juan Pablo's avocation as an athlete: he took up any sport that he considered a challenge. While practicing Crossfit he led the "Fit for Care" initiative, mobilized the international Crossfit movement in favor of palliative care, and supported many initiatives that raised funds for several palliative projects in Spain, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. It was illuminating to see him in his workout clothes, next to a gym bench, using a whiteboard to explain total pain to a group of Crossfit athletes: a challenge within the reach of few people. 

Many of us know about his professional skills, his knowledge, etc. There is not enough space on this website to address the whole of professional career. 

Juan Pablo had the final word

At Fundacíon Cudeca we gathered to reflect on his life and legacy, and we believe that becoming an incredible doctor was a clear reflection of his intimate, personal being. 

Though his passing may seem sudden, Juan Pablo had thought about—and prepared for—his own death. Lady Death stood by while he studied medicine, palliative care, family medicine, and many other skills that allowed him to snatch from her the suffering and pain of many people. But he did not deceive himself; death, that treacherous companion of all of us, did not surprise him. At the end, he surprised death. “I was waiting for you, my friend," he could have stated. "The last word is mine.” 

If there was one thing Juan Pablo did, it was to live, very intensely, every single day of his life. His memory reminds us that he lived, and he lived smiling. 

We may feel beaten by his death, but we are also glad to have a healing connection to his memory. May all the peace he brought to people be with him eternally.

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