A neurologist, fighting to the last

The San Francisco Chronicle has a striking article about a neurologist who is dying from the disease he has researched all his professional career. He is writing his last paper as he slowly gives way.

The condition is called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, which slowly destroys neurons in the spinal cord that control the muscles in the body, leading to a gradual loss of control, paralysis and death through breathing problems.

The doctor is Richard Olney an expert in the condition who is writing up his last study on the condition by using a device which lets him type with his eye movements.

Dr. Richard Olney is racing to finish what is almost certain to be his last research paper.

The 63-year-old UCSF neurologist is considered one of the country’s top clinical specialists for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. ALS is also the reason Olney is in a hurry to finish his paper: He was diagnosed with ALS in 2004, and after a long period of relative stability, the disease appears to be rapidly winning out over the doctor.

Olney has almost no muscle function left.

“He’s at the end stages now, certainly,” said Dr. Catherine Lomen-Hoerth, once Olney’s medical trainee, now his doctor. “I’m hopeful he may have at least a few months.”

Olney hopes the disease he is studying will spare him at least long enough to finish his research on it. His son, Nicholas, 33, is assisting with the final write-up.

The piece is tragic yet inspiring and a tribute to a life’s work lived to the full.

God speed good doctor.

Link to SF Chronicle article (via @stevesilberman).

4 thoughts on “A neurologist, fighting to the last”

  1. Rick Olney was one of my attendings when I trained at UCSF. He was the consummate clinician-teacher, extremely patient, kind, and reflective. Many patients and teachers are grateful. Incredible human being.

  2. Most likely the best ALS paper ever written. Time to learn first hand neurology at a real price, not theory.

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