This year’s Hower Award recipient is Kenneth Mack, MD, PhD. Currently Dr. Mack is the Chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Neurology in the Department of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and Professor of Neurology and Pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. His numerous contributions to the Child Neurology Society and the discipline of child neurology throughout the United States and world-wide make him an outstanding choice for the Hower in this or any other year.
Born in Chicago as the youngest of four children, Ken was influenced by his older sister who became a nurse. He admits that his interest in medicine was sparked by her apparent enjoyment of her work. Dr. Mack left Chicago at age 18 years to enter the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, from which he graduated with a BS with honors in Biology in 1978, and subsequently an MD and PhD in 1984. During this time he came under the influence of Dr. William Greenbaugh, who impressed the putative researcher with his obvious love for research and the enjoyment of the effort to find things out. While Dr. Mack was not a noteworthy athlete while in school, he was a member of the “Satanic Viruses” basketball club team composed of members of the research lab in which he worked while in Champaign-Urbana.
Dr. Mack did his graduate training at Washington University in St. Louis in both Pediatrics and Neurology. The list of noteworthy faculty members at “Wash U” at the time was impressive, but Dr. Mack recalls that Dr. Arthur Prensky made the biggest impression, noting that “Art was the one everybody took their hardest cases to for his opinion.” Dr. Joseph Volpe and Dr. Edwin Dodson also made lasting impressions on Dr. Mack as a resident.
Dr. Mack joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin in 1990 as an assistant professor of Neurology, Pediatrics, and Physiology. He was promoted to associate professor in Madison and it was during this time that had the opportunity to work with Drs. Ray Chun and Rob Rust, who became life-long friends and both of whom were very influential members of the Child Neurology community for many years. It was in the early days of his career that Dr. Mack was recognized as a promising clinician and investigator with the bestowing of the Young Investigator Award of the Child Neurology Society in 1991. His young investigator award research was related to the induction of transcription factors in cerebral cortex. While in Madison he investigated synaptic plasticity and transcription factors. It is worth noting that several of the first recipients of the Young Investigator Award (renamed the Philip R. Dodge Young Investigator Award in 2004) are now being recognized for their contributions to the Child Neurology community over the span of a career. As he became more and more involved in clinical work Dr. Mack drifted toward clinical research and away from the laboratory.
The Mayo Clinic was fortunate enough to acquire the talents of Dr. Mack in 2001 and he has remained in the Division of Child and Adolescent Neurology since, serving in several capacities including director of the D. Sanford Pediatric Center (2006-2011), Director of the Clinical Practice of the Division and Chief of the Division (2017). While at Mayo, his interest and expertise in the management of difficult headache problems and movement disorders and tics has resulted in a well-deserved reputation for thoughtful and considerate care of his patients, and his opinion and advice is sought by many patients, colleagues and referring physicians. His great clinical skills plus his temperate and mellow approach to even the most trying clinical situation has made him a favorite of the residents and students and their appreciation has been shown by the receipt of three “Excellence in Teaching Awards”; in 2014 he was honored by Mayo as the “Teacher of the Year.”
Dr. Mack has been a member of the Child Neurology Society since 1989, serving the organization in many capacities. He was President from 2015-2017, and before that served on the Awards Committee, the Electronic Communications Committee, the Long-Range Planning Committee, the Research Committee and the Executive Committee. Following his presidency, he chaired the Nominating Committee and represents the CNS on the Annals of Neurology Oversight Committee. He also was a key contributor, on short notice, to the production of the first Self-Assessment Examinations produced by and for the Child Neurology Society. It is fair to say that the frequency with which he has been appointed to the various committees of the Society is testament to the value placed on his contributions to those endeavors.
Dr. Mack recognized, early on, the importance of growing and supporting the development of child neurology as a specialty world-wide. He joined the International Child Neurology Association (ICNA) in 2002 and quickly became a valued contributing member, serving on the Executive Board of the organization from 2002-2018, as Secretary General from 2004-2010, and as Chair of the Education Committee from 2010-2014. He has encouraged many colleagues, residents and students to participate in ICNA congresses and become members of this important organization. Dr. Mack has also been a long-time member and contributor to the Society for Neuroscience (1979-2004), the American Academy of Neurology and the International Headache Society ,as well as the Movement Disorder Society and the Professors of Child Neurology. He has many published papers, abstracts, reviews, commentaries, editorials and chapters.
On a more personal level, Ken and his wife Pat are the happy parents of three children and three grandchildren. Remarking that there is “scarcely anything more fun than playing with grandchildren” he anticipates, once the pandemic eases, spending a great deal of time doing just that. Dr. Mack is a warm, friendly, unfailingly upbeat man with a tremendous capacity to stop what he is doing to listen to a question or supply information without appearing to be annoyed by the interruption. He is forever willing to “give the benefit of the doubt” to everybody he encounters and this includes the many difficult patients, as well as the colleagues, residents and students he deals with on a daily basis. Although there are many deserving Child Neurologists among us, I can think of none more deserving of the Hower Award than Dr. Ken Mack.