Edwin C. Myer, M.B.B.Ch. (1929-2015)

by Alan K. Percy, MD

In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.
Abraham Lincoln

Edwin C. Myer, M.B.B.Ch.Dr. Edwin C. Myer, Professor Emeritus and a former Chair of Child Neurology at the Virginia Commonwealth University, passed away on September 8, 2015 following a long and storied career. We first met Ed in the spring of 1970, when we, in the nascent child neurology training program at Johns Hopkins, were pleasantly surprised to welcome a burly, somewhat older gentleman with a strong South African accent to our group. Ed was born and educated in Johannesburg and among his pursuits during this time he had been a top-flight center scrum in rugby. Following medical school and initial advanced training, he had a burgeoning career in general pediatrics in Johannesburg as the junior member of a well-established group there. He then obtained a Diploma in Pediatrics from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and became a Consultant in the Children’s Hospital of Johannesburg. But, other challenges beckoned and fortunately for us, Ed decided that additional training in child neurology was his goal.

This was our introduction to Edwin Myer, and with it we were all enriched by this gentle, knowledgeable, inquisitive, and highly-competitive fellow who became a close and valued friend. Ed quickly joined our child neurology community which worked and played together. He had a remarkable collection of humorous stories with which he regaled us regularly. His competitive instincts were on display while playing volleyball at one of these weekend events. Unfortunately, one of his Achilles did not like all this stress and he spent a few weeks in a cast as the result.

Perhaps, my most ringing memory of Ed stems from a Grand Rounds at Hopkins during this period. We had begun to investigate the utility of the ketogenic diet already in use there under Sam Livingston. A young lad was presented at rounds with an apparent complication of this diet. The chair, Guy McKhann, asked Ed if he would offer an opinion regarding these unusual lesions on this child’s chest. Now, Ed was actually older than Guy and calmly looking these over, he turned to Guy and said “"Guy, I think that is pellagra, but not the typical rash." And then added, almost casually, these seem unusual for this country but at home this would be garden-variety pellagra. Guy made him chair for the day.

On another occasion, [one story Ann recalled was] after being treated for GE-reflux, he had all of his medicine bottles that he kept in the pockets of his short white coat.  All the residents were in the cafeteria when a code was called on the stroke unit. Ed ran up the stairs six flights while the rest took the elevator. The group arrived there first only to hear the noise of his bottles rattling and shortly thereafter Ed arrived very breathless to the point that one of the Osler resident throughout Ed needed to be resuscitated. Ed recovered quickly and proceeded to direct the code.

After training, he moved to the Medical College of Virginia, later part of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), rising through the ranks ultimately to lead and enhance this program. He was revered by his faculty, trainees, and patients and their parents alike. He was a consummate clinician engaging in clinical research and active at the national level. His enduring passion was quality preparation of trainees at all levels and was honored repeatedly as Outstanding Teacher at VCU.

He received certification by the American Board of Pediatrics and American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) with Special Competence in Child Neurology. He was a regular examiner for the ABPN, dedicated to advancing fair and balanced standards for all candidates at the time when concerted efforts were made to standardize the examination methodology. While examining, he often would worry about being able to make his plane connection at the end of the day resulting on one occasion by falling for a practical joke. It seems that members of the examination team conspired to arrange for a message to be relayed to him by so-called ‘airline employee’ indicating that his flight time had been moved up and he would be forced to miss the flight. Fortunately, his exasperation created instant laughter from the group and the ruse was revealed. He accepted this practical joke in his usual even-handed manner.

Ed was also extremely active at VCU in various academic and committee functions, providing guidance and precise decisions when needed. He also played a major role at the national level, particularly for child neurology with the Child Neurology Society (CNS), the Professors of Child Neurology (PCN), the American Neurological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Indeed, he was Councilor and member of the Executive Committee of the CNS from 1990-1992, a member of the Executive Committee of the PCN from 1992-2002, and a member of the Executive Committee, Section of Neurology for the AAP from 1989-1998; he was Chair of this committee from 1994-1998. Previously, he had chaired the Ethics Committee of the CNS from 1984-1990. His impact at the local, state, and national levels was enormous.

He took an active interest in understanding Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and studied the possible role of β-endorphins. Subsequently, further study of β-endorphins in the cerebrospinal fluid was conducted in individuals with Rett syndrome (RTT). The positive response of a clinical trial with the opiate antagonist, Naltrexone, in children with apnea and elevated β-endorphins led to a subsequent trial and in individuals with RTT. Unfortunately, this trial did not have a positive outcome although some individuals with RTT have benefitted from this agent.

As much as he eagerly and critically embraced all of the clinical and administrative activities of child neurology, his true devotion was to his wife Ann (Farren) and his three children, Jennifer, Landon, and Jonathon. The children have now established families of their own, each with two children of their own. Together, the families have returned the devotion to Ed. They would often vacation at the shore where Ed let his hair down, so to speak. He loved being out-of-doors and especially surf fishing while there. [I visited him one time there and convinced him to try a screwdriver when he insisted that alcohol with any color gave him migraine. He rather liked it].

Ed was beloved by all: his wife and children, his patients, his faculty, and his training partners in neurology and child neurology. The latter group was especially close. Each of us has a set of special stories, either involving Ed or more likely, one of Ed’s many humorous stories. We shall miss the his hustle to a patient‘s room, his hearty laugh, and the great friendships that developed then and were retained thereafter as though nothing had intervened.

I can think of no higher expression of personal and professional regard than that of his successor and colleague, Jack Pellock. “He was my chair, mentor, and closest friend and, really, my brother.

       L-R: Jack Pellock, Marilyn Myer (VCU section administrator), Ed Myer



Alan Percy, MD

Professor, Pediatrics, Neurology, Neurobiology, Genetics, and Psychology
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Birmingham, AL

[in collaboration with:]

Gihan Tennekoon, MBBS
Professor, Neurology
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA

David S. Zee, MD
Professor, Neurology, Ophthalmology, Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery, and Neuroscience
Johns Hopkins University,
Baltimore, MD

[With guidance and advice from Marjorie Seybold and Guy McKhann.]