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Alumni News Kevin Storr July 04, 2017

Michael E. Stephens with Anita Smith and Harold Jones in 2014Michael E. Stephens, alumnus of the UAB School of Health Professions’ Master of Science in Health Administration and the driving force behind the Lakeshore Foundation, passed away on Saturday, July 1, 2017, at the age of 73.

Stephens, who suffered a devastating spinal-cord injury in 1970 that changed his life and eventually the lives of countless others, will be most remembered as the man who built Lakeshore Hospital from a 100-bed rehabilitation facility into an internationally renowned rehabilitation campus that serves more than 4,000 physically disabled people annually. The Lakeshore Foundation, as it is known today, was the first entity to become an official U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Site thanks to Stephens’ leadership.

At UAB, where he was a member of MSHA Class 9, he will be most remembered for his efforts to bring together the academic excellence and ground-breaking research of the School of Health Professions and the world-class facilities of the Lakeshore Foundation to create the UAB / Lakeshore Research Collaborative in 2009. In the last two years alone, the Collaborative has brought in more than $15 million in grants to support rehabilitative sciences research.

“Mike was a man of many talents and accomplishments who dedicated his life to his many passions, none greater than his commitment to use research and programming to improve the quality of life for those living with physical disabilities,” said UAB School of Health Professions’ Dean Harold P. Jones, Ph.D. “He was a great friend and supporter of the School of Health Professions and made numerous contributions through his counsel to the direction of he School over the 17 years that I knew him. Mike was a man of spirit who recognized the passions and capabilities of others and, with his time and resources, helped so many realize their dreams. Personally, Mike was to me a colleague, mentor and, most of all, friend. His daily counsel will be missed but his influence and dreams will remain and continue to impact the future of the School for years to come."

michael stephens 1Michael E. Stephens, 2002Stephens long played an active role with the UAB School of Health Professions. In the 2000’s he served for many years as a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board. In 2009, as part of the celebration of the School’s 40th anniversary, Stephens was honored as a member of the “Fab 40 Alumni” which recognized the 40 best alumni all-time.

In 2014, shortly after publishing the acclaimed book “Sports Rehabilitation and the Human Spirit: How the Landmark Program at the Lakeshore Foundation Rebuilds Bodies and Restores Lives,” he kicked off the School’s annual book discussion series. His appearance with the author of the book Anita Smith inspired a School-wide essay contest on the topic of “Rebuilding Bodies, Restoring Lives.”

It was at the book discussion where Stephens singled out his MSHA education at the School of Health Professions and in particular Professor Emeritus Tee Hiett, Ph.D. He reiterated to the students what Hiett told him – never overlook statistics and never become a statistic.

“Statistically, some of us are going to end up in bad places in life and for some reason I did and for some reason I found out why I was there and what I must do,” Stephens told the students. “You need to have faith in God, keep in the right direction and believe it is going to work out for you. In the long term, even when you think the end is there – it’s not. There are many more things to be done and just when you are ready to give up, your life blossoms into something much greater than you ever dreamed it would be. So always believe that.”

In addition to his School of Health Professions’ honors, Stephens was also recognized multiple times by UAB including in 2002 when he received the honorary degree Doctor of Humanities during the May commencement and the UAB Distinguished Alumnus Award during the December commencement.

In 2006, Stephens was inducted to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in the category of Distinguished Alabama Sportsman. The ceremony noted his service to “the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) CEO Leadership Council, an advisory group to USOC Chief Executive Officer Jim Scherr” and for being a member of the USOC Chairman’s Circle which was an advisory group to then USOC Chairman Peter Ueberroth.

In 2013, the University of Montevallo, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in 1975 and was awarded the Doctor of Humane Letters in 1995, named him their Founders’ Day speaker. At the 117th Founders’ Day celebration, the university welcomed Stephens as “one of its most notable and generous alumni to speak to those attending the convocation.”

HOF Stephens SmithStephens and Smith at the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame ceremonyIn 2014, Stephens was inducted to the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame where he told the crowd:

"I am most fortunate to have chosen a career in healthcare in the area of rehabilitation at a time when it's paradigm was changing and I was able to have an influence on that change. And because of that I ended up with a bunch of honors. But there is no greater honor than the one you're giving me today."

Stephens, who up until his passing was president of S. Enterprises, Inc., and an active member of the Lakeshore Foundation Board of Advisors, will be remembered for his business success at Lakeshore and again at ReLife, which went from one specialized rehabilitation company to a 12-state 46-facility in a decade in the late ‘80s.

But most importantly, Michael E. Stephens will be remembered for his success in changing people’s lives (including his own). Nobody did more in the past 40 years to help the world recognize the strengths and abilities of persons with physical disabilities. And with the legacy he has left behind at the Lakeshore Foundation and the UAB School of Health Professions – nobody will do more than Stephens will over the next 40 years and beyond.

Click here to read Michael E. Stephens obituary in AL.com.

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