Bringing CNS Members Together to Make Children’s Lives Better


Barry Russman, MD

Barry Russman, MD

Barry Russman was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1938. He attended Harvard, obtaining an AB in Social Psychology cum laude in 1959. Medical education at Tufts School of Medicine followed, during which he decided to become a pediatrician. His MD degree was awarded in 1963. After completing two years of pediatrics training at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY in 1965, he transferred to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for an additional year.

Dr. Russman’s decision to become a child neurologist was made during his pediatrics training at CHOP. It was based upon particular experiences with patients and upon the mentorship and splendid example provided by Dr. Sam Tucker. After completing a two year obligation with the United States Air Force in Idaho in 1968, he returned to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for training in Child Neurology under Peter Berman. Dr. Berman not only influenced his clinical training but played an important role in awakening interest in performing clinical research. At CHOP, Dr. Russman had particularly rewarding experiences seeing patients with cerebral palsies and neuromuscular diseases. The pediatric orthopaedist, Dr. Jim Gage was an important part of these attractive endeavors and exerted a strong influence on Dr. Russman’s education in cerebral palsies. At a later stage of his career Dr. Bud Roland would serve as the most important mentor for Dr. Russman’s further education in neuromuscular diseases.

Upon the completion of his training in 1971, Dr. Russman took a position at the University of Connecticut Health Center and Newington Children’s Hospital, where he was to remain for the next twenty-six years. He served as Chief of the Child Neurology Section for twenty years. He held appointments as well in the Connecticut Children’s Medical at the Hartford Hospital, the New Britain General Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, and the Veterans Memorial Medical Center.

Dr. Russman quickly established himself as a superb clinician and a leader in the developing field of pediatric neuromuscular diseases. He also devoted himself as well to the care of children with cerebral palsies with interest in every aspect of their care and rehabilitation. Dr. Russman’s growing interest and expertise in the complex subject of disorders of tone in the cerebral palsies as well as in movement disorders benefited particularly from the influence of Stanley Fahn. He was greatly interested as well in various other chronic disabilities of childhood, such as mental retardation and epilepsy. It is likely that Dr. Russman’s well-known powers of bedside observation and clear-minded formulation are derived from his experiences with each of his important mentors, all of whom were richly endowed with these same abilities. But time and effort honed these abilities, as did Dr. Russman’s own quintessential qualities: curiosity, avidity for reliable knowledge, and sharp analytical powers.

Early in his career Dr. Russman became active in advocacy. He was appointed to the Connecticut State Advisory Council for Special Education, the Board of Directors of the Hartford Association for Retarded Citizens, and to the committees of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics concerned with school health and disabilities. He participated in a study undertaken at the behest of the Governor of Connecticut to investigate problems of epilepsy and other disabling neurological conditions. His valuable services were rewarded by additional appointments including the membership on the Board of Directors of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Greater Hartford and of the Connecticut Association for Children with Learning Disabilities. He was sought out for services by education and rehabilitation task forces and commissions.

Despite the press of so many activities and clinical demands, Dr. Russman proceeded systematically in an ambitious program of clinical research. His initial clinical publications concerned a wide variety of traumatic, infectious and vascular conditions, a report with his mentor, Sam Tucker, on a novel movement disorder observed as a manifestation of the Bobble-Head Doll syndrome. In 1974 a paper considering the genetic causes of cerebral palsy was the first of seven publications by Dr. Russman concerning various aspects of the cerebral palsies. In 1979 two papers concerning evaluation of children suspected of having spinal muscular atrophy were published. This was to become a major concentration. Over the course of the next twenty-seven years a total of 28 papers would consider in detail functional classification, orthopedic management, myometry, muscle biopsy findings, and pathogenesis. Detailed characterization of natural history of disease served as the basis upon which treatment trials might be evaluated. Protocols were developed for standardized strength assessment in these conditions at various ages.

During the course of his career to date, Dr. Russman has published fifty-two peer-reviewed papers. These include, in addition to those concerning cerebral palsies and spinal muscular atrophies, papers on stroke, traumatic nervous system injuries, learning disorders, metabolic diseases, infectious conditions, non-SMA muscle disorders, and four each on paroxysmal or epileptic conditions and movement disorders. He was first or senior author of more than two thirds of his peer-reviewed publications. He has published twenty-eight chapters concerning cerebral palsies, neuromuscular conditions, seizures, early intervention strategies, attention and learning disorders, and other topics.

In support of his research endeavors Dr. Russman has organized and participated in studies the aggregate funding of which has amounted to more than 1.2 million dollars. Many are studies considering the efficacy of treatments for cerebral palsies, spinal muscular atrophies, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. He has become a leading authority on the use of botulinum toxin for alleviation of spasticity and on the recognition, evaluation and treatment of pain in a wide variety of disabling conditions.

Dr. Russman has achieved international recognition for his expertise on cerebral palsies and neuromuscular disorders of children. He has delivered more than one hundred lectures nationally and internationally, including four named lectureships and numerous visiting professorships. His lectures are marked by their breadth, depth, clarity, and practicality. In his lectures he displays the wisdom that can only arise on the basis of exceptionally detailed experience. Although his expertise in neuromuscular conditions and cerebral palsies has been sought with particular avidity, he has lectured on a broad variety of additional topics.

Throughout his career Dr. Russman has repaid many times over the debt that he has owed to his own fine early clinical mentors. To his medical students, residents, and fellows he has passed on the tradition of careful observation and intelligent bedside clinical formulation. His devotion to his community and the handicapped individuals to be found there has resulted in numerous awards and recognitions, including election to the Connecticut Association for Children with Learning and Perceptual Disabilities Hall of Fame, the Muscular Dystrophy Association Service Award, and the Hartford Community Service Award.

In 1997 Dr. Russman left Hartford to assume his current position as Director of Child Neurology at the Shriner’s Hospital of Portland and Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at the Oregon Health Science Center. He has remained, throughout his busy career, devoted to his family. If there have been times when the demands of professional life may have eroded to some slight degree his patience and tranquility, they are seldom apparent and it can be said with confidence that he is an individual who has to an exceptional degree enjoyed the privilege of being a physician, pediatrician, and child neurologist. He has succeeded to a remarkable degree in integrating his love of and commitment to both his family with his profession, to each of which he has given generously. A strong sense of practicality and a whimsical sense of humor have no doubt helped, as has a little additional time set aside for golf and skiing.

It has been said that a mark of the great physician is unfailing willingness to see the extra patient as need arises and without complaint. This willingness and dedication has characterized Barry Russman’s entire career. For the patient and family he provides the additional virtue of being a true “all-rounder” as his competence extends to all areas of child neurology. For his junior colleagues it has always meant critical protected time at crucial stages of their careers despite the fact that it meant taking time from his own important and pressing research interests. Among others, this time figured very importantly in the development of such spectacular careers as that of Greg Holmes. In addition to protection, visionary guidance was provided regarding the importance of developing the technological resources needed for enhanced epilepsy monitoring and provision for such resources at Newington in an era when there were few child monitoring facilities. His mentorship of others included as well the example he provided of practicality, advocacy, and compassion in the management of patients. In his dealings with patients he took into consideration the whole child and the child’s family rather than choosing to address a particular manageable aspect of the disease in question. He is that rare physician who seems always able to make things better for others, or, having found after exhausting all possibilities that he cannot “fix” something, will turn his attention wholeheartedly to providing the wisdom and support needed to come to terms with the new realities at hand.