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A. David Rothner, MD

Profile written by Robert S. Rust, MD

A. David Rothner, MD

A. David Rothner was born in Chicago, Illinois. he received an A.B. degree from Yeshiva university in 1961 and was granted his medical degree by The university of Illinois in 1965. During medical school he decided to become a pediatrician. Experiences with handicapped children during his pediatrics residency aroused his strong and persistent interest in helping such children. his decision to become a child neurologist was influenced by the examples provided by Abraham Levinson and Gerhard Nellhaus. Chicagoan Seymour Diamond played an important role in interesting Dr. Rothner in headache. After training in pediatrics for two years at Presbyterian-St. Luke’s hospital in Chicago, Dr. Rothner’s completed his senior pediatrics residency at Babies hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. A two year tour of duty as a Major in the Pediatrics Department of Irwin Army hospital, Fort Riley, Kansas was followed by training in neurology and child neurology with an NINDB Fellowship at the Neurological Institute of New York (1971-1973).

The roster of those influencing Dr. Rothner’s career path is truly remarkable. At Columbia, Niels Low, Arnold Gold, Abe Chutorian, and hans Luders figured importantly in Dr. Rothner’s training in epilepsy, as did Fritz Dreifuss of the university of Virginia. Professors Gold and Chutorian served as models of critical thinking, as did Sid Carter. The combination of Gold, Low, and Carter provided as potent a triumvirate of excellent mentors in the approach to diagnosis and management of degenerative neurological diseases as could be found anywhere at any time. William Silverman at Columbia influenced Dr. Rothner’s interest and approach to neonatal neurology, as did fellow resident, Dick Koenigsberger.

Another contemporary resident, Mike Painter, also proved a valuable influence on Dr. Rothner. Melvin Yahr and Gerald Erenberg awakened Dr. Rothner’s career-long interest in movement disorders – particularly Tourette syndrome. Sid Gilman was an influential mentor in the area of cerebellar and spinal cord function. Martha Denkla has influenced Dr. Rothner’s interest in behavioral and learning disorders. Biologist Rabbi Moses Endler of Yeshiva university was to prove very important in Dr. Rothner’s approach to ethical issues in medicine. Other important influences on Dr. Rothner’s practice have been Fred Andermann, Joseph Volpe, and Peter Huttenlocher.

Upon completion of formal training, Dr. Rothner accepted an appointment as Chief of the Section of Child Neurology at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, where he has remained for forty years, including 26 years as Chief of the Child Neurology Section. In 2005 he was appointed Vice Chair of the Division of Education and Chair of Patient Education, positions he held for four years.

Dr. Rothner’s particular concentration early in his career was epilepsy. he has, to date, been engaged in 55 studies of treatment trials, co-authored thirty-four peer reviewed papers, and written thirteen chapters concerning epilepsy. his most highly cited paper concerning epilepsy surgery has been cited 140 times; next highest on the list are papers addressing valproate (one concerning pancreatitis, another concerning the occurrence of asymptomatic hyperammonemia). highly cited studies of epilepsy concern the value of subdural elecrodes in evaluating children for epilepsy surgery, psychogenic seizures, the effectiveness and safety of lamotrigine, and dystonic posturing as a manifestation of partial temporal lobe seizures.

The first of thirty-nine peer-reviewed papers on childhood headaches – another area of concentration for which Dr. Rothner is well-known – was published in 1978. Dr. Rothner has organized or engaged in 25 research protocols concerning headache and has written 22 excellent chapters and reviews on this subject, including contributions to the establishment of diagnostic criteria for childhood migraine, the efficacy of various forms of treatment, and brain imaging of children with migraine. Dr. Rothner was an early and quite valuable participant in improvement of understanding of concussive brain injury. Eleven original papers concern movement disorders, an interest that led Dr. Rothner to organize five formal movement disorder research projects. Ten peer-reviewed papers concern movement disorders, particularly Gilles de la Tourette syndrome (GDLTS). His 1986 summary with Gerald Erenberg of 200 pediatric cases has been cited 72 times. His most highly cited movement disorder paper concerns paroxysmal choreoathetosis. Ten papers focus on neurocutaneous diseases. Characteristically, Dr. Rothner’s approach is both disciplined and practical, showing the benefit of the considerable experience of a highly observant physician. The remainder of Dr. Rothner’s total of 77 peer-reviewed original papers, 47 review articles, 38 chapters, and 28 thoughtful and valuable contributions to the popular press address topics that concern almost the length and breadth of child neurology. Among the remainder of his most highly cited are papers concerning Miller Fisher syndrome, Eaton-Lambert myasthenic syndrome, thalamic dementia, and childhood syncope.

Dr. Rothner has served on advisory boards of societies devoted to improved care of six different families of illnesses. He has, throughout his career, been an extraordinarily active teacher of medical professionals at all levels, as well as the public, including both parents and children. Beyond the content taught in all of these settings concerning diseases and treatment, he has passed on to his many proteges two seminally important tools or traits: the importance of maintaining healthy doubt concerning much that is “said to be true,” and the value of learning to say “I don’t know.” his unceasing intellectual honesty and reflex forthrightness , make him a most constructive critic. As is true of most child neurologists, his relations with others is deeply enriched by his kindness and consideration. Bruce Cohen recalls that Dr. Rothner’s response to hearing of the death in Sudan of the father of one of his fellows was to take out his wallet. Dr. Cohen notes how remarkable it is that Dr. Rothner has demonstrated a ceaseless capacity to care about everyone, extending that care to telling difficult truths, such as telling parents forthrightly how, despite their undoubted best intentions, they may be preventing the improvement in their child’s chronic headache or other problems. Dr. Rothner’s interests outside of medicine include religion, antiques, and art. As is often, perhaps even necessarily true of someone who always strives to do the right thing, he both recognizes the ways in which achieving a balance among interests is at times difficult and offers to students and colleagues alike a model for emulating how it might, nonetheless, be done. Asked to list his chief qualities, those who know him well might cite his ever-pleasant persona, devotion to duty, and inspiring moral rectitude. Those who know him best would put it more simply and directly: he is a mensch.