Women share everyday experiences, must overcome common difficulties—and only women can completely empathize with other women. Gal Pal’s circle spotlight is bringing women together so we can learn and grow by sharing real women, real stories, tips, advice from authentic gal pals who inspire to make this world a better place.
Welcome To The Gal Pal Circle Spotlight
I can’t imagine a better woman to launch The Gal Pal’s Circle Spotlight than my mother, Dr. Zaiga Phillips. She is my biggest inspiration and her childhood story belongs in an inspirational fictional featured film. I’m not kidding! Two authors are currently writing a book about her life. You can get a sense of her life’s story below.
At Gal Pal we appreciate that every woman has a story, and we can learn from all women. My mother’s story is nothing short of extraordinary. I will refer to my mom as Dr. Zaiga Phillips from here on out.
Surviving WW II- Escaping Latvia
When Zaiga was nine years old, she escaped Latvia; Fleeing the soviet occupation during World War II, tucked away beneath a stinky pile of hay on a wagon with her mother, brother, and grandmother.
The torturous route from Ape, Latvia to Liepaja Latvia was terrifying. The family’s journey included traveling at night amongst bombings and cross- fire, through cities reduced to rubble . They hid in barns, rode in wagons and train cars with various animals until they reached Liepaja, where they reconnected with Zaiga’s father.
The family of four then boarded a German military transport ship in Liepaja. “I remember walking up a long wooden plank as we climbed aboard the vessel. We huddled together as we learned that Russian subs were following us at night on our way to Germany. Luckily, I had carried a baby chick on board nestled in my coat pocket that gave me solace during the horrific sailing.” Zaiga describes.
After the family reached Danzig, they continued traveling to Pocking, Germany. “When the world war ended, we eventually relocated in a displaced person’s camp located in Munich,” says Zaiga.
Zaiga’s family lived in the camp (in one room with 20 people) for five years before they established a sponsor in the United States who agreed to grant shelter and help assimilate the family.
The voyage to America in 1949 was an adventure through the turbulent Atlantic water to New York City, then New Orleans. From there, they traveled by train to Washington State, as migrants and later proud US citizens.
Becoming a Citizen & Medical Student
Zaiga attended The University of Washington, as an undergraduate then later UW Medical school. In 1959, Zaiga graduated as one of only three females in a class of 69 total medical students.
At that time, Phillips had no idea that she would help pave the path for women physicians today. It’s unthinkable for any woman studying medicine today to comprehend how challenging the road was for women to become physicians before 1970. Today over 43% of medical students are female.
Zaiga met Dr. Albert Phillips in medical school and wed shortly after and had three children. After they divorced, life was difficult for Zaiga as a single mother with very little resources. She worked at the Bellevue School District as a School Physician and finished her residency at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital at the same time. Yes, working, finishing her residency and being a mom for three busy kids…. All at the same time!
Becoming a Pediatrician And Giving Back
Zaiga joined the Pediatric Associates practice in 1976 as one of only a few female pediatricians in Washington State.
In 1987, Zaiga traveled back to Latvia (under communist rule) with her father and two girls. It was troublesome to see the poor state of the healthy, gorgeous country Zaiga once remembered. Hotel rooms were bugged, as seeing relatives was restricted. It was life-changing moment finally meeting family members they left behind during the war—a dark and provoking time for sure.
After her trip, she was determined to assist the Latvian people any way she could. She participated in all of the Latvian medical congresses and established essential connections and friendships that opened the door to the opportunity to give back and meet the medical needs in her beloved country.
This included procuring therapeutic equipment, medicine and educational materials that she shipped off to Latvia. Her garage was packed with enormous cartons of donated supplies stacked to the ceiling, for years.
Healing The Children
Another mission she carried out was with Healing the Children (HTC). HTC’s benefits under served children access the health care all over the world. HTC is one of the oldest and largest non-governmental, humanitarian volunteer driven charities in the nation. As part of the HTC team, Zaiga was able to facilitate surgeries for children in need from Latvia as well as other countries.
Thanks to Healing the Children, all of these fortunate souls are living healthy, happy lives today! “It is so gratifying to see these healthy and productive adults today. I am so pleased that I played a small role in their happiness,” says Zaiga.
Making Liepaja A Sister City With Bellevue Washington
As that wasn’t enough, Dr. Phillips led the effort in Bellevue Washington to become a sister city with Liepaja Latvia in 1991.
This opened the doors for Zaiga to create several youth health programs in Latvia which included a successful bicycle helmet safety campaign and outdoor play equipment for kids with disabilities.
Honored With A Humanitarian Award From The President Of Latvia
Dr. Phillips was honored with the Latvian President’s Award for her humanitarian efforts by the Latvian president, Vaira Vike Freiberga, in 2006. After the award ceremony, her grandson, Jake, realized his Grandma was a bit of a celebrity in Latvia.
Dr. Zaiga Phillips Today
Today, Dr. Phillips continues to support several pediatric residents in Latvia by providing educational grants for inspiring new doctors. In addition, Dr. Phillips has provided an opportunity for several Latvian pediatric surgeons to gain valuable surgical experience at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
In June, 2020 Dr. Phillips was awarded with another major award and was featured on the front page of the Latvian newspaper Laiks. She was awarded The Honorary Doctor’s Degree From Riga Stradinu University in Latvia! Only three people, one being the past female president of Latvia.
Phillips was awarded for her ongoing effort and support for the pediatric residents and staff in Latvia. Her support includes opportunity for young doctors to visit the United States and work with skilled physicians to gain the necessary knowledge and expertise in pediatrics to benefit the care of youth in Latvia. In addition, she provides scholarships for young medical residents in Latvia. Her dedication to provide professional growth resources is so admirable.
She is also involved with LAZA- Latvian Association of Physicians and Dentists. Phillips is motivated to assist students in developing knowledge and skills so they can reach their potential and dreams. Based on her commitment to Latvia’s well being, Dr. Phillips has been featured many times in the Latvian and Seattle media
In her mid-80s, she maintains her studies and fills in for doctors as needed each month. Yes, she is still seeing patients.
Zaiga is a grandmother of two boys who adore her very much. She is an amazing mother, aunt, grandmother, friend and mentor to so many. We love her !
Interview with Dr. Zaiga Phillips
On living A Beautiful Life
1. What woman has inspired you the most and why?
Phillips describes that her Mamina (mother) had the biggest impact on her life. “My Mamina was a significant influence because she made me realize that women are capable of achieving anything if you are willing to work hard. “My amazing, loving mother worked as a full-time veterinarian and a professor in veterinarian medicine in Riga Latvia.“ Phillips described. It was common practice for women to be in medicine in Latvia unlike the United States, so I never thought twice about able to becoming a doctor. My mamina encouraged me to go after my dreams, and to never ever give up.
2. What are three events that have helped to shape your life? Good and bad
a. My children helped shape my life and transformed my way of life for the better. My three children gave me purpose. My children gave me a higher meaning as a struggling single mother providing for my kids.
b. WW II changed my future and shaped my life as I escaped Latvia as a young child. The challenging adventure as a child made me the courageous woman I am today. Returning to my country set a fire under my feet to support the people of Latvia anyway I could.
c. The ability to make a difference as a doctor, mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, and daughter, is what means the most to me. Diagnosing children’s health issues and then helping children heal all over the world is my passion. This challenge has shaped me to be who I am today.
What Does Grace Mean To You?
Grace, to me, is the power, beauty, and love of God that is always around us. In order to have grace, you must have gratitude. Gratitude allows us the ability to have grace.
What missions / Issues do you hold close to your heart?
Children’s health issues have become my life’s work. I wish every child in the world could have the best medical, mental and social care possible.I have loved being a Pediatrician and I am very fortunate that I have always cherished my career and taking care of young people.
What brings you the most joy in your life?
My family brings me the most joy in my life. Being with my family is at the center of my happiness and joy. In addition, I have always appreciated and enjoyed the arts.
What keeps you up at night, and how do you overcome it so you can enjoy your life?
I tend to worry about some of patients that I have seen during the day. With this comes worry. My family also tells me I worry too much about them as well. To overcome this, I work on having faith as I pray for strength.
What is the daily routine that brings you joy?
I love to take refreshing walks, reading good books, spending time with friends and my family.
Where is your “happy” place and why?
My happy place is at my home in Lativa with my family surrounding
Shop Zaiga's Favorite Things
Zaiga is a very active lady who loves to travel, spend time with friends, family and enjoys the arts. She takes good care of her skin and health and loves to bake and cook. The following items are some of favorite items.