UC Berkeley graduate Zuben Rikleen, remembered for his kindness and his passion for medicine, died last month. He was 23 years old.
Rikleen spent most of his childhood years abroad, mainly in India and Thailand, before arriving at UC Berkeley as a transfer student, according to Brett Lewis, Rikleen’s friend and UC Berkeley alumnus. Rikleen graduated in 2014 with a double major in integrative biology and South Asian studies.
Rikleen was pursuing a career in medicine and dedicated a large part of his life to practicing and volunteering in the field. Lewis described him as someone with a “calling” for medicine.
“I recently read a personal statement that he wrote, in which he reflected upon his time observing an orthopedic surgery at a hospital in South India,” Lewis said in an email. “He described the graphic procedure with such beauty and grace, and with such open vulnerability, that I was left with no doubt of his calling.”
According to Lewis, Rikleen was an emergency medical technician for Berkeley Medical Reserve Corps. He also volunteered at the San Francisco General Hospital Emergency Department and had medical experience in India and Honduras.
Aki Williams, chief operating officer of Defib This Emergency Response Training, the training program Rikleen completed in August 2014 in Berkeley, said Rikleen was a good and kind human being with a true passion for medicine.
“He is the kind of person that we would want to care for our children,” Williams said. “You can see the enthusiasm when he was talking about medicine, and you just know emergency medicine was definitely something he wanted to pursue.”
Rikleen’s friend Kuntal Chowdhary said Rikleen stood out with his “unique creativity” and humor.
“His creativity showed from the smallest things, like the way he dressed to the way he thought and perceived the world around him,” Chowdhary said in a Facebook message. “Even his daily smoothies were works of art, with a mix of every single item he found in the fridge.”
Apart from practicing medicine, Rikleen enjoyed working out and participating in athletics. He was a member of the Cal Triathlon team and could often be seen riding an ’80s bike while wearing a bright pink jersey and sunglasses, said Louie Cao, UC Berkeley senior and current president of the Cal Triathlon board.
Dean Harper, head coach of Cal Triathlon, recounted that Rikleen still rode and ran as fast as many of their top athletes, despite his vintage bike frame and his tendency to wear “sock-shoes” while running.
Rikleen’s friends and teammates also highlighted his compassionate nature with little difficulty.
Rikleen was often the first to notice when someone was upset, Lewis remembered. According to her, one of Rikleen’s greatest strengths was in using his own vulnerability to deeply connect and empathize with others.
Rikleen is survived by his mother, father, two older half-brothers and an older sister.