DHMC cardiologist Lauren Gilstrap remembered for her dedication to her work, true kindness
A “brilliant researcher [and] gifted clinician and teacher,” Gilstrap brought positive energy to each space in which she found herself, leaving those around her happy and loved.
Courtesy of Janet Milley
Lauren Gilstrap was larger than life, her research mentor and director of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice Amber Barnato said.
“You always knew when she was coming into a room,” she said
Gilstrap, who was a cardiologist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, died on Oct. 21, 2022. She is survived by her wife Janet Milley, and her children Katelyn and David.
Barnato said Gilstrap’s presence in a room was characterized by her “booming voice” and “tailored pantsuits,” but she will be remembered for her kindness and work ethic. Barnato recalled a day when Gilstrap was wearing running clothes instead of her usual work attire.
Confused, Barnato asked Gilstrap if she was planning to go for a run, and Gilstrap responded that “she had just ran a 10k on the treadmill with a right heart catheter in her.”
Barnato said that heart catheters measure the physiology of the heart and their insertion is a dangerous procedure, but Gilstrap knew that a research study “needed a volunteer” to wear one, so she enrolled herself. She added that she knew Gilstrap as a passionate and endlessly inquisitive member of the medical community.
“She worked really hard,” Barnato said.
According to TCTMD, Gilstrap was born on Nov. 25, 1983 and received an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Masters of Public Health from Harvard School of Public Health. In 2018, Gilstrap moved to Hanover and joined the Heart and Vascular Center and its cardiovascular medicine section at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, according to Mark Creager, the director of the Heart and Vascular Center.
As an assistant professor at the Geisel School of Medicine and a member of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Gilstrap quickly became ingrained in the medical community at Dartmouth — even becoming the program director for Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology in 2021, according to TCTMD.
Barnato said when Gilstrap arrived at DHMC she “was really easy to mentor” because she was always “four steps ahead of where you would expect someone in her stage to be.” Barnato added that Gilstrap’s medical knowledge made her a valuable mentor to those around her since her early days at DHMC
However, Barnato best remembers Gilstrap for her positivity.
“She was fun. When you were with Lauren, the room felt bright,” Barnato said.
While Gilstrap was a “brilliant researcher,” she was also “just really funny,” according to professor Jonathan Skinner.
According to Creager, Gilstrap was a “proverbial triple threat.”
“She was a superb clinician, beloved by her patients and clinical colleagues; an outstanding teacher and an accomplished scientist,” Creager wrote.
Gilstrap had a magnetic personality and was a beloved friend and desired mentor for undergraduate, graduate and medical students, as well as residents, fellows and faculty. Creager added. Her mentorship wasn’t desired solely because of her knowledge — but also because of her charisma and generosity.
Emily Zeitler, another friend and colleague of Gilstrap’s, said that Gilstrap was an “expert at everything” and a “sponge when it came to new skills and knowledge.” She added that what made her brilliance all the more impressive was how she was eager to share what she knew with those around her — ensuring they succeeded together.
Zeitler said that she felt a kinship with Gilstrap from the moment Gilstrap arrived at DHMC. At the time, there were not many women involved in the cardiology department, and the two quickly found their friendship blossoming beyond just their work.
“Lauren always had plans for some crazy adventure,” Zeitler explained, sharing a story about a time the pair had brought a bright yellow kayak to go paddling with a group of friends. On their short ride home from kayaking, they had pulled their car over after hearing a thump to discover that their kayak was gone.
“To this day, we don't know where the kayak is. We drove back and forth that one mile stretch of road,” Zeitler said. “It was a bright yellow kayak. We thought it was hilarious that two people who each have a doctorate and a master’s degree for some reason couldn’t accurately secure a kayak to the top of a car.”
Zeitler said she and Gilstrap always loved to laugh about that lost kayak.
Gilstrap also brought her passion for sports and outdoor adventures to the Hanover community. As a lifelong athlete who enjoyed paddleboarding, skiing, snowboarding, softball and mountain climbing, Gilstrap was an avid supporter of athletics in the region and used her talents as an “exceptional softball player,” according to Barnato, to become a youth softball coach.
Dr. Gilstrap was also a devout Christian, her pastor Mandy Lape-Freeberg said.
“Even though she was an incredibly busy doctor and young mother and wife and was very active in the community, she was always reading theology,” Lape-Freeberg said.
Knowing this, Lape-Freeburg asked Gilstrap to work with her to write a sermon in honor of Pride Month, only for Gilstrap to respond two weeks later saying that she had finished the sermon by herself and was ready to deliver it.
“She preached the sermon, and my whole church was blown away. She was just so articulate and thoughtful and faithful and hopeful,” Lape-Freeberg said. While Gilstrap had been rejected from her previous church because of her identity as a lesbian woman, Lape-Freeberg said that she discovered a spiritual home at the Christ Church at Dartmouth
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Gilstrap was a powerful voice in the fight for equality. She frequently pushed for LGBTQ+ patients to receive better healthcare, and she explained her position in a profile for Humans of the Upper Valley, saying “Why shouldn’t a heart transplant doctor start an LGBT clinic?”
From her mentorship at DHMC to advocating for marginalized patients, Gilstrap exuded passion and yearned to lend her positivity and support to every community.
“She was a shining light for the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Heart and Vascular Center and for the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth,” Creager wrote, “and her memory will live on through all of those she touched.”