Gerald (Gerry) Erenberg’s modest, unassuming personality belies his extraordinary accomplishments as a gifted clinician, researcher, and innovator in child neurology. His impressive life’s work presents a daunting challenge of being condensed into one or two pages. Gerry set down the foundations of a nascent department of Pediatric Neurology at the Cleveland Clinic when, having moved to Cleveland from New York in 1976, he and colleague, David Rothner, served as the sole practitioners in child neurology at the Clinic. The two colleagues soon went on to establish a robust, nationally recognized program in child neurology. Recognizing very early on that the field of child neurology was expanding, Gerry saw the need for subspecialization and for dedicated subspecialty clinics. Together with David Rothner, he established the Cleveland Clinic’s Epilepsy, Spina Bifida, and Brain Tumor Clinics.
Born in Chicago in 1938 to immigrant parents, Gerry began his education at a neighborhood public school. As one would expect, Gerry excelled in school from the outset. However, with his characteristic humor, he describes how, even though he was designated “genius at work” in his high school graduation photo, he did manage to fail one course along the way – handwriting. As a consequence, he was required to spend an entire summer practicing the Palmer method of handwriting, which is why, he says, he is one of very few physicians in North America who has a legible handwriting. After completing high school and receiving a scholarship, Gerry began his undergraduate studies at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier (respectfully referred to as “Harvard on the Rocks” as it had been a naval training facility during WWII), transitioning directly to University of Illinois’ College of Medicine in Chicago three years later. He received his MD degree in 1962.
During his Pediatric residency at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, where he served as Chief Resident in his third year, Gerry decided he would like to be a Child Neurologist to take care of developmentally disabled children. However, he would first join the Air Force as a Medical Corps Pediatrician, stationed at Wright- Patterson AFB for several years during the Vietnam War before he had the opportunity to take his Fellowship in Pediatric Neurology. He received an NIH Fellowship in 1968 and began his Child Neurology training at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York, where his mentors included Isabelle Rapin, Al Spiro, Arthur Rose, Jerry Golden, and Joe French. His Fellowship colleagues included Bennett Shaywitz and SakkuBai Naidu. A noteworthy milestone in Gerry’s journey as a child neurologist may perhaps be traced to Chicago the year before he began his Fellowship, when he worked as a pediatrician in the High-Risk Infants Program, part of President Johnson’s Great Society initiative. His work there with infants at risk for medical or developmental problems led to an abiding interest in what was called at the time, Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD), and would eventually become known as ADHD, an area he explored further during his Fellowship, poring over all the literature he could find in the library and eventually publishing a commentary on the subject in the Journal of Pediatrics in 1972 (“Drug Therapy in Minimal Brain Dysfunction”).
Upon completion of his Fellowship, Gerry was offered an appointment at Montefiore Hospital, where he worked with Jerry Golden and Joe French who had received a grant from the City of New York while Gerry was still a Fellow, to establish a multidisciplinary unit at Morrisania, a South Bronx City Hospital. Gerry himself was given the honor of establishing the Center for Child Development in 1971, for which he put together a team comprising a neighborhood paraprofessional, a nurse-coordinator, a speech pathologist, a Neuropsychologist with Spanish language fluency, and himself as physician. Inputting all the data they gathered on their first 400 patients, by means of the very basic computer technology available at the time, the team published the results in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. This was the first such paper looking at developmentally disabled, disadvantaged preschool children, as well as school-aged children, in a low socio- economic setting. It was also the stepping stone to a remarkable career dedicated to neurodevelopmental and neurobehavioral disability in children.
In 1976, Gerry was promoted to Associate Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He describes an atmosphere of uncertainty that prevailed at the time with regard to the future of grants for clinical research, as the city of New York was on the verge of bankruptcy. Always proactive, Gerry sought out other opportunities and, with his wife, and three children, made his way to Cleveland, Ohio, where his career at Cleveland Clinic took root.
Not long after moving to Cleveland, Gerry forayed into the subspecialty that would come to define much of his life’s work in the coming years. Over a brief period of three months in 1977, Gerry saw no fewer than seven children with Tourette Syndrome (TS). This intrigued him, as TS was generally supposed to be a rare disorder. His subsequent publication of a series of 12 cases of TS marked the start of his notable clinical research in this field. This work led to his joining the Medical Advisory Board (MAB) of the Tourette Syndrome Association (TAS) in 1978, although Gerry wryly claims that it was his credentials as an erstwhile New Yorker that helped get him elected to what was at the time a notably New-York-dominated board. Within a few years, Gerry was appointed Chairman of the MAB, a position he retained until 2002. He also became a member of their Scientific Advisory Board, a group exclusively dedicated to assessing grant applications and making funding decisions. Gerry describes this era as a time of rapid growth in the field of TS, with burgeoning scholarship on the subject, and a growing understanding that, contrary to prior assumptions about the rarity of the condition, TS was actually a relatively common disorder.
Meanwhile, at Cleveland Clinic, Gerry had established the Learning Assessment Clinic by 1985, a “clinic without walls,” as he puts it, where an educator-evaluator was appointed co-director. Gerry had the intuitive understanding that an educator, rather than any other kind of specialist, was best equipped to write recommendations for teachers to implement in schools. Gerry’s remarkable ability to see beyond the circumscriptions of a particular specialty, to understand problems in a systems-wide way, has always been a valuable part of his make-up as a physician.
From there on, Gerry spent his entire career at the Cleveland Clinic, before fully retiring in 2015. While serving as a general child neurologist, he focused on building and establishing clinics in TS, ADHD, autism, movement disorders, and learning disabilities. During this time, he saw over 1200 patients with Tourette syndrome. He had a prolific career, publishing 68 peer reviewed articles, 28 of which he first authored. Most of these were in the areas of learning disabilities, ADHD, and TS. Gerry was responsible for establishing the Pediatric Neurology Resident Training program at the Cleveland Clinic in which he served as director for eight years. He also served on numerous councils at the Clinic, including the first Bioethics Committee for 10 years, another significant area of medical interest for Gerry throughout his career.
Also noteworthy among the many highlights of Gerry’s career is the fact that he attended the original meeting of the Child Neurology Society (CNS) in 1972, where he presented a paper on Rhabdomyolysis. He also served as Councillor from the Midwest and a member of the Child Neurology Executive Committee from 1977-1979. Together with Ron David, Gerry wrote the first CNS position paper circa 1980 on “The Role of the Neurologist in the Evaluation and Care of Children with Learning Disabilities”. For six years, he served as the CNS liaison to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Children with Disabilities, during which time he participated in the writing of multiple position papers, including the AAP position paper on “Dyslexia and the Eye” for which he was lead author. In keeping with his strong sense of the need to give back, Gerry served on the Boards of Trustees of a number of support organizations, including Tourette Syndrome Association, United Cerebral Palsy, Epilepsy Foundation, and the Spina Bifida support group.
Gerry married Shulamith (Shu) Ehrlich while in medical school. He and Shu remain devoted to each other and their three children and grandchildren. Gerry enjoys gardening, travel, and genealogy, and has continued to do volunteer work in the Jewish community, as well as pursuing ongoing adult education. Gerry is highly regarded for his sense of humor, integrity, kindness, and generosity as a friend, colleague, mentor, and teacher. Since those early days in 1976 when Gerry and David Rothner together constituted “the department” at Cleveland Clinic, medical science and technology have changed immeasurably, but in many ways, Gerry still is “the department,” as he has made an indelible mark on the practice of Child Neurology at the Cleveland Clinic and in the profession of child neurology as a whole.
Gerry’s remarkable ability to see beyond the circumscriptions of a particular specialty, to understand problems in a systems-wide way, has always been a valuable part of his make-up as a physician.