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2011 Health Care Heroes: Robert M. Pascuzzi

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Health Care HeroesFINALIST: Physician

Robert M. Pascuzzi, MD

Professor and Chairman, Department of Neurology, Indiana University School of Medicine

 

pascuzzi-robert (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

A diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is heartbreaking. While the mind remains alert, the muscles in the body begin to fail, and patients gradually lose the ability to walk, move, speak, and finally, breathe. Most patients survive only two to five years after being diagnosed. There’s no known cause, no effective treatment and no cure.

Robert Pascuzzi, M.D., director of the Indiana University/ALSA Center for Excellence at Wishard Health Services, finds ALS both challenging and fascinating, but he never forgets how devastating the diagnosis is to those afflicted.

“At some point you realize much of it is about spending time with patients, trying to understand what’s going on with them, and being available to give them straightforward, honest expertise,” Pascuzzi said.

“We try to maintain their level of function so they can do what they want to do as best as possible, as safely as possible and for as long as possible. Some people think [working with ALS patients] is depressing or frustrating, but it’s actually very rewarding.”

Patients appreciate Pascuzzi’s “glass is half-full attitude,” and his compassion and concern when delivering the diagnosis. They also say he treats his patients like family and that he is a “straight-shooter,” preparing them in advance for, as one patient said, “situations that could have been much worse had we not been anticipating their dreaded arrival.”

Training neurology students and residents on the things that aren’t in the textbooks is one of the most meaningful things Pascuzzi, 57, does. “In every setting, I teach,” he said. “What do you do if a patient has something serious that you can’t fix? How do you go about managing these patients over time and make it a positive, energizing experience and something that everyone benefits from?”

He’s a seven-time recipient of the IU School of Medicine Golden Apple Award. He’s also received the IU Board of Trustees Teaching Excellence Recognition Award and was named Distinguished Neurology Teacher of the Year by the American Neurological Association.

Pascuzzi came to IU Health in 1985. He chairs IU’s Department of Neurology and is director of the IU MDA Neuromuscular Clinic. He was instrumental in establishing IU’s ALS center 15 years ago. It is the first and only such program in the state to be designated as a “Center of Excellence” by the ALS Association.

To date, the center has been involved with more than 20 multi-center trials. Pascuzzi applauds patients who volunteer to participate. “They do it not so much because they’re trying to help themselves,” he said. “They’re doing it for the next generation of folks who are going to be affected by the disease. They are truly heroic.”

Pascuzzi has admirers of his own.

“Patients and their caregivers who come to see him during the course of their disease are under unimaginable strain,” said Melissa A. Pershing, executive director for the Indiana chapter of the ALS Association. “Yet, Dr. Pascuzzi’s obvious expertise, honesty, gentle humor and compassion—along with his ability to explain complex medical conditions in plain language and to make those who come to him feel both important and listened to—put them at ease.”•

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Click here to return to the Health Care Heroes landing page.

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  1. to mention the rest of Molly's experience- she served as Communications Director for the Indianapolis Department of Public Works and also did communications for the state. She's incredibly qualified for this role and has a real love for Indianapolis and Indiana. Best of luck to her!

  2. Shall we not demand the same scrutiny for law schools, med schools, heaven forbid, business schools, etc.? How many law school grads are servers? How many business start ups fail and how many business grads get low paying jobs because there are so few high paying positions available? Why does our legislature continue to demean public schools and give taxpayer dollars to charters and private schools, ($171 million last year), rather than investing in our community schools? We are on a course of disaster regarding our public school attitudes unless we change our thinking in a short time.

  3. I agree with the other reader's comment about the chunky tomato soup. I found myself wanting a breadstick to dip into it. It tasted more like a marinara sauce; I couldn't eat it as a soup. In general, I liked the place... but doubt that I'll frequent it once the novelty wears off.

  4. The Indiana toll road used to have some of the cleanest bathrooms you could find on the road. After the lease they went downhill quickly. While not the grossest you'll see, they hover a bit below average. Am not sure if this is indicative of the entire deal or merely a portion of it. But the goals of anyone taking over the lease will always be at odds. The fewer repairs they make, the more money they earn since they have a virtual monopoly on travel from Cleveland to Chicago. So they only comply to satisfy the rules. It's hard to hand public works over to private enterprise. The incentives are misaligned. In true competition, you'd have multiple roads, each build by different companies motivated to make theirs more attractive. Working to attract customers is very different than working to maximize profit on people who have no choice but to choose your road. Of course, we all know two roads would be even more ridiculous.

  5. The State is in a perfect position. The consortium overpaid for leasing the toll road. Good for the State. The money they paid is being used across the State to upgrade roads and bridges and employ people at at time most of the country is scrambling to fund basic repairs. Good for the State. Indiana taxpayers are no longer subsidizing the toll roads to the tune of millions a year as we had for the last 20 years because the legislature did not have the guts to raise tolls. Good for the State. If the consortium fails, they either find another operator, acceptable to the State, to buy them out or the road gets turned back over to the State and we keep the Billions. Good for the State. Pat Bauer is no longer the Majority or Minority Leader of the House. Good for the State. Anyway you look at this, the State received billions of dollars for an assett the taxpayers were subsidizing, the State does not have to pay to maintain the road for 70 years. I am having trouble seeing the downside.

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