Leadership

IMmortal Foundation brings together a highly regarded team of experienced communicators whose exceptional achievements cross multiple sectors. Each of these is important in exploring all matters of life and death including the visual arts, religious and spiritual skillsets, as well as scientific, medical, health and wellness, social, psychological and legal competence.

Executives

Leszek Burzynski

President
Leszek co-founded IMmortal Foundation with Terry Sweeney. They also co-founded “The Winning Team,” a film and TV production company, for which they executive produced “Bhopal: A Prayer For Rain,” which was shot on location in India and Los Angeles and was released in the U.S, in November 2015. It stars Martin Sheen, Kal Penn, Mischa Barton and Rajpal Yadav. Leszek’s multifaceted entertainment career began at the BBC in London. Subsequently, he has worked in radio, film, TV and theater. When “Wooly Boys,” an independent feature film Leszek directed starring Peter Fonda, Kris Kristofferson and Keith Carradine, was released it was the #2 highest grossing film in the U.S. Leszek also writes and directs documentaries. One of these, “A Line in the Sand,” opened at the Laemmle Theater in Santa Monica as a benefit for veterans, and another, “Living Life Forwards,” which he also hosted on-screen, was filmed in the South Pacific. At the end of 2014, Leszek co-wrote and directed a short dramatic feature entitled, “Flying South.” It was filmed in New Zealand’s South Island using technology developed for the three “Hobbit” movies, and was completed at Sir Peter Jackson’s Park Road post-production facility in Wellington. Its original musical score was performed by the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

Under the auspices of London based Picture Partnership Productions, which he co-founded with Brian Eastman, Leszek directed commercials for many of London’s leading advertising agencies. He also directed “Father’s Day,” the first ever independently produced sitcom for British TV. Now resident in Los Angeles, Leszek has written, directed, produced and narrated films for a wide array of corporate, institutional, educational and retail clients, among them Microsoft, Phelps Dodge, Pioneer Corporation (Japan), Transamerica, Pepsi-Cola, Virgin Charter, The Smithsonian Magazine, Ultra-Pink, Aetna Insurance, Apfells Coffee, Interactive Television Channel, Teleflora, Monotech, Hancock & Moore, Cabot-Wrenn, McGraw Hill, LAUSD, Esthederm, Pindler & Pindler, Royal-Pedic, MGA Toys, The Pressman Toy Company, Loyola High School, Hydro-Floss, USAREC, (U.S. Army Recruiting Command), Essilor, the Migraine Council and the Hawai’i Natural Energy Institute.

Leszek personally experienced how hospice care offered first his mother and later his closest friend a peaceful death. Then, in his own life, Leszek was faced with advanced prostate cancer for which he still receives treatment. As a result, he is drawn to use his lifelong skills as a communicator to advance knowledge and an understanding of how we can all make a “good death.” He believes that film is a powerful force for change and education that can ease the transition from life that every human being will have to make.

Terrance A. Sweeney

Executive Vice President
Terrance A. Sweeney

Terry received a Ph.D. in Theology and the Arts from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and a Masters in Communication Arts from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  In addition to being a national bestselling author, Sweeney has been awarded  five Emmys and three Cine Golden Eagles.  He has worked as a Producer, Writer, and Consultant on more than 80 films and television shows.  Sweeney’s first Emmy was awarded for “Streets of Anger, Streets of Hope.”  This documentary was part of a multi-year effort to reduce gang violence in East Los Angeles at a time when that area had the highest gang-related homicide ratio in the nation.  Shocked by the amount of violence and death, Sweeney spent years on the streets of East Los Angeles to discover the root causes of gang violence, and the best ways to prevent it.  He then encouraged community organizations, as well as government and church leaders, to establish the Community Youth Gang Services Project.  Within two years of its founding, the Project had reduced East Los Angeles homicides by 88 percent.

For more than three decades, Sweeney has served in executive leadership positions, including:  President of Michael Media, Inc.; Senior Vice-President of Paulist Productions;  Executive Director, Director of Education and Trustee of The Humanitas Prize;  Co-Founder and Producer of Winning Team Productions; Co-Founder of IMmortal Foundation.  His work to effect positive social change on end-of-life issues is inspired by more than forty years of priestly ministry to grieving families and their loved ones who have died from the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, cancer, sudden infant death syndrome, heart-attack, stroke, gang-related shootings, drunk-driving, dementia, AIDS, pneumonia, fatal accidents, drug-overdose, and starvation.

Sweeney’s extensive educational background, including 23 years as a Jesuit, combined with Emmy Award winning production experience, have made him a valued consultant to Executives at Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, Universal, and Paramount.

In addition, Sweeney is author of four books, including the Publishers Weekly Top Ten National Bestseller, WHAT GOD HATH JOINED, which he co-authored with his wife, Pamela Shoop Sweeney.   In addition to his many film and television awards, Sweeney has been honored by the White House, by the Mexican American Alumni Association of Loyola Marymount University, and by the Graduate Theological Union with an Atoll-McBean Fellowship.

Advisory Panel

Amber Gray is a licensed mental health professional and psychotherapist, award winning dance movement therapist, authorized Continuum Movement teacher, and public health professional with extensive experience in cross cultural psychotherapy, education, and program development. Her clinical work with survivors of organized violence, torture, war and combat related trauma has informed her deep appreciation of the birth-life-death re-cycle. Working with refugees who have fled persecution and violence in their homes, and the loss of dignity, place, and connection to everything familiar that refugee and asylum seeking survivors of torture endure, has elucidated the many ways that traumatic experience — the suffering it creates, and the healing and transformation that are possible — is a true life and death experience.

Amber is trained in Somatic Psychology, Dance Movement Therapy, Contemplative Practice and Authentic Movement. She also has training in Eco psychology, Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, Narrative Exposure Therapy, Trauma-Focused CBT, Parent-Child Psychotherapy, Mindfulness-based Therapies, Yoga Therapy, Life Impressions Bodywork, and Cranial-Sacral Therapy. She is intimately connected to Haiti’s vast spiritual tradition, in which the sacred space between life and death are constantly being danced.

She teaches and provides training to professionals and paraprofessionals who work with survivors of extreme interpersonal and social trauma worldwide, and who wish to integrate somatic, movement, mindfulness, and heart, spirit and creative arts based therapies into their work. She also works with governmental and non- governmental organizations responding to disasters and complex humanitarian emergencies to develop and sustain staff care programs for their teams. She embraces all of this work as an opportunity for “bridging” the liminal and viscerally real edges of life, death and change that traumatic exposure, and its “ever after” influence on the lives it touches, creates.

Roshi Joan Halifax is a teacher, Zen Buddhism priest, anthropologist, caregiver, and author. She is Founder, Abbot, and Head Teacher of Upaya Zen Center, a Buddhist monastery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

As director of the Project on “Being with Dying”, Halifax has helped caregivers cope with death and dying for more than three decades. Her book Being With Dying helps clergy, community activists, medical professionals, social workers and spiritual seekers remove fear from the end of life.

A Founding Teacher of the Zen Peacemaker Order, her work and practice for more than three decades has focused on engaged Buddhism. She is Founder and Director of the Upaya Prison Project that develops programs on meditation for prisoners. For the past twenty-five years she has been active in environmental work.

She studied for a decade with Zen Teacher, Seung Sahn, and was a teacher in the Kwan Um Zen School. She received the Lamp Transmission from Thich Nhat Hanh, and was given Inka by Roshi Bernie Glassman.

Roshi Joan is a distinguished invited scholar to the Library of Congress and the only woman and Buddhist to be on the Advisory Council for the Tony Blair Foundation. She is founder of the Ojai Foundation, was an Honorary Research Fellow at Harvard University, and has taught in many universities, monasteries and medical centers around the world.

Dr. Manoj Jain

Dr. Manoj Jain
Manoj Jain, M.D., M.P.H., is an infectious disease physician, a writer, and a national leader in healthcare quality improvement.

Dr. Jain writes regularly on end-of-life issues for the Washington Post, the Huffington Post and the Commercial Appeal (Memphis newspaper.) He received his engineering, doctorate, and public health degree from Boston University and completed his residency and fellowship training at Boston City Hospital and New England Medical Center. He has served as a consultant to the World Bank on HIV, and has been interviewed by CNN and National Public Radio. Over the past 15 years Dr. Jain has given over 150 talks, and published numerous scientific articles, chapters and books. Dr. Jain has conducted research on HIV epidemiology, quality improvement, and spirituality & medicine.

Presently, Dr. Jain is adjunct assistant professor at Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and the medical director at Tennessee’s Quality Improvement Organizations. He is also on faculty for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and founded and chaired the Annual Nonviolence Conference in Memphis.

David Kessler is one of the most well-known experts and lecturers on death and grieving today, reaching hundreds of thousands of people through his books. “On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss” is co-authored with the legendary Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. David also co-authored with Kübler-Ross, “Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach us about the Mysteries of Life and Living.” David considers it an honor and privilege to have worked so closely with Elisabeth for ten years and to be with her during her passing.

David has helped thousands of men, women and children face life and death with peace, dignity and courage. His experiences have taken him from Auschwitz concentration camp to Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying Destitute in Calcutta. His services have been used by Elizabeth Taylor, Jamie Lee Curtis and Marianne Williamson when their loved ones faced life-challenging illnesses. He also worked with Anthony Perkins, Michael Landon and industrialist Armand Hammer when they faced their own deaths. His volunteer work includes serving as a member of the Red Cross Mental Health Disaster Team and as a Specialist Reserve Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department, on its trauma team. He also is chairperson for the Hospital Association of Southern California Palliative Care Committee.

His work has been discussed in the “Los Angeles Times,” the “New York Times,” “Business Week” and “Life Magazine,” and has been featured on CNN- Cross Fire, NBC, MSNBC, PBS, and “Entertainment Tonight.” He has written for the Boston Globe and The SF Chronicle. He has also been interviewed on “Oprah & Friends” and now writes book reviews for The Los Angeles Times. He is a featured Grief and Loss expert on Oprah.com and AOL Health Expert.

Dr. Mathuram Santosham

Dr. Mathuram Santosham
Mathuram Santosham, M.D. is a professor of Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins, as well as professor of Immunology, International Health and Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In 2016, Johns Hopkins endowed a Chair in Mathu’s name for his seminal work in American Indian health and the development of vaccines that prevent infectious diseases, especially among children, worldwide.

In 1981, when Dr. Santosham first moved onto the White Mountain Apache Reservation in Arizona, there was en epidemic of severe diarrheal disease which was killing Indian infants at rates seven times higher than the national average. The continual stream of burials for those beautiful Apache babies prompted Dr. Santosham to dedicate his life to finding cures for infant diseases. He introduced oral rehydration therapy (ORT) to Apache and Navajo tribes. Within a few years, the rates of diarrheal deaths among these tribes dropped virtually to zero. In 1990, Dr. Santosham founded the Center for American Indian and Alaskan Native Health, John Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health. Over the past two decades, through his work with Native American Indians, he has pioneered vaccines to eliminate death caused by penumococcal and RSV infections, and deaths resulting from a bacterial meningitis caused by Haemophilus influenza typeb (Hib). The groundbreaking cures he implemented in the Native American tribes have been shared with developing countries around the world. It is estimated that Dr. Santhosham’s efforts have saved over 50,000,000 lives.


Lisa Sweeney

Lisa Sweeney
Lisa Sweeney’s experience developing and managing programs in higher education and international development as well as her Master of Liberal Arts degree in Business Management (A.L.M.M.) from Harvard University have honed her leadership abilities. She has a proven ability to creatively envision innovative solutions; analyze key details; manage people, systems, and logistics; and the perceptiveness to communicate with a variety of stakeholders to drive vision into action. Lisa served as the IMmortal Foundation Chief Operating Officer in 2016, and now continues support in an advisory capacity.

Lisa spent more than a decade working in higher education supporting the integration of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) in research and teaching, as the Head of MIT GIS Services and the Rice University GIS/Data Center Director. She later worked with Indonesian government officials, the World Bank, and City Form Lab to create City Planning Labs (CPLs) in rapidly growing Indonesian cities. CPLs support evidence-based spatial planning and investment decision-making with the goal of helping cities achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

Her collaborative nature and strong beliefs in the benefits of ‘open access’ have driven her efforts to improve discovery and access to data, including work developing City Planning Labs in Indonesia, and her promotion of collaborations between multiple universities and government agencies to enable simple, simultaneous searching of multiple institutional repositories.

Lisa has guided sophisticated researchers as well as people with little to no experience with technology to study and address a wide range of challenges. When awarded the Library Journal “Mover and Shaker Award” in 2008 she was described as having “a casual yet professional teaching style that encourages people to use technology they might have otherwise felt was beyond their grasp.”

Lisa holds a strong belief in the importance of healthy mind, body, and spirit. Her developments across these arenas have included performing as a Division 1 scholar-athlete volleyball player at Rice University while double majoring in Biology and Health Science; doing field-work contributing to long-term ecological studies, camping and hiking through dozens of national parks; expanding awareness of spiritual beliefs and traditions in ancient sacred spaces, and becoming a certified yoga teacher. Lisa’s inquisitive and exploratory nature has led her around the world through 40 countries across 6 continents, sharing rich cultural experiences, delicious foods, openness to different ways of life, and a growing appreciation for our global human family.

Lisa seeks innovative solutions supporting positive change, with great interest in the potential of technology and education to enable large-scale positive impact. She has been exposed to life’s edges and the harsh realities that many in our global human family experience. She is motived to help empower people to live a fulfilling, regret-free life through IMmortal Foundation.

Kathryn L. Tucker

Kathryn Tucker
Kathryn L. Tucker, J.D. is the Executive Director for the Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) and former director of legal affairs for Compassion and Choices, the nation’s largest and oldest nonprofit organization working to improve care and expand choice at the end of life. Ms. Tucker practiced law with the Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie, where her pro bono work for Washington Citizens for Death with Dignity led her to the aid-in-dying movement.

Kathryn served as lead counsel representing patients and physicians in two landmark federal cases decided by the United States Supreme Court, Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill, asserting that mentally competent terminally ill patients have a constitutional right to choose aid in dying. These cases are widely acknowledged to have prompted nationwide efforts and much-needed attention to improving care of the dying, and to have established a federal constitutional right to aggressive pain management.

Kathryn also handles state constitutional litigation asserting claims of a similar nature, including Baxter v. Montana, in which the lower court recognized that aid in dying is a fundamental right protected by the Montana State Constitution. The Montana Supreme Court did not reach the constitutional issues, but upheld the right of terminally ill Montanans to choose aid in dying. She successfully defended the Oregon Death with Dignity Act from attack by the United States Department of Justice in Oregon v. Gonzales and was involved in the development of, and successful campaign to pass, the Washington Death with Dignity Act (2008.)

Kathryn is recognized as a national leader in spearheading creative and effective efforts to promote improved care for seriously ill and dying patients. She served as co-counsel in the first case in the nation to assert that failure to treat pain adequately constitutes elder abuse. She has been principal author of various state legislative measures, which serve as models for other states, to ensure physician education in pain management and provision of information to terminally ill patients about end-of-life care options. She also defends physicians facing adverse consequences for treating pain attentively and aggressively. In addition, she is an invited speaker at educational programs on the subjects of improving care at the end of life, end-of-life decision-making and aid in dying.

She is a graduate of Georgetown University Law School and Hampshire College and an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, teaching in the areas of law, medicine and ethics, with a focus on the end of life. She has previously been adjunct professor of law at the University of Washington, Seattle University and Lewis & Clark Schools of Law.

Kathryn is listed in the prestigious directory “Who’s Who in American Law” and was recognized as Lawyer of the Year, Runner-Up by the National Law Journal. She appears frequently on television and radio discussing end-of-life care, decision-making and physician-assisted dying. Media appearances include “Crossfire,” “The News Hour” with Jim Lehrer, Larry King and CNN. Her work has been profiled in the “National Law Journal,” “American Lawyer,” “Journal of the American Bar Association,” “Legal Times,” and the magazines “George,” “Vogue,” “Time,” “People and Health,” among others.

John Welshons (“Ramananda”)

John E Welshons "Ramananda"
John Welshons (“Ramananda”) is a highly respected contemporary spiritual teacher who lectures and leads meditation courses throughout North America.  He has been a practitioner of vipassana (mindfulness) meditation and various forms of yoga for more than forty years. In addition to his latest book, One Soul, One Love, One Heart: The Sacred Path to Healing All Relationships, he is also the author of Awakening from Grief: Finding the Way Back to Joy and When Prayers Aren’t Answered, two books that emerged from nearly forty years of experience helping people deal with dramatic life change and loss.

Ramananda has studied world religions throughout his life. He holds a B.A. in Comparative Religions from the University of South Florida, and an M.A. in History of Religions from Florida State University.  He has also traveled and studied extensively in India and is a gifted counselor and teacher who has worked closely with Ram Dass and Stephen Levine and trained with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

His workshops and lectures are offered in personal growth centers, yoga schools, churches, hospitals, hospices, corporations, colleges, and universities. He is also available for one-on-one consultations.  He currently resides in northern New Jersey.