This year’s CNS Annual Meeting will be my 25th. My first, in 1988, took me as far east on the North American continent as that rare (but not endangered) species, homo peds neuros, is commonly found: in Camfield Country, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The 2012 meeting brings me to the continent’s westernmost reaches, where the Land of Lott and the neighboring domains of giants named Ashwal and Shields, Trauner and Mitchell meet the crashing waves of the Pacific.
This year’s meeting also marks my first as Executive Director. Which means, far more significantly, it will be the first CNS Annual Meeting without my friend, mentor and predecessor, Mary Currey. While some members can justly claim to have attended all 40 meetings (Ken Swaiman and Peter Berman come to mind), only one person can be credited with planning all of them. Mary was one of a handful of accomplished women who, over the past few decades, brought the leading neurological associations in this country to their current state of prominence, a group that includes Cathy Rydell (AAN), Linda Scher (ANA), and Sue Berry (AES). What Mary brought to the Child Neurology Society and to it’s annual meetings that, for many members, set them apart was the personal touch. At the risk of sounding churlish, I confess that hardly a week has gone by in my first five months as her successor that I haven’t rued how much she spoiled all of you. Thankfully, both for my sake and yours, the ever-gracious Associate Director, Sue Hussman and our irrepressibly cheerful, hardworking assistant, Kathy Pavel, very nimbly and naturally fill that void.
Mary’s absence is not all that will feel different this year. The loss of longtime regulars Bob Bart, Don Lewis, and Bhuwan Garg will be felt as well, as will be the absence of a growing number of those from the founding generation whose health keeps them at home, including one of this year’s two Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, Dick Koenigsberg.
Hard as it might be to admit, and harsh as it may seem to say, that too is an integral part of annual meetings: we use them, we need them, to help us mark loss and gain, ebb and flow, like the regular, unceasing movement of waves rolling in and out along the shore. I take it as a good sign and reminder, then, that this year’s meeting is in Huntington Beach, both for that reason and one other: looking ahead at the changes and challenges facing child neurology in particular and medicine in general, it may well be that we couldn’t have chosen a better place than “Surf City, USA” to plant a flag and declare “here is where the next 40 years begins.”
Perhaps I should explain.
The thought came to me while attending the “AAN/ ANA/CNS/AUPN Economic Survival of Academic Departments Summit Meeting” held in Boston earlier this month that child neurology by itself has no power to affect and no hope of surviving the implacably growing healthcare crisis in this country and the spasmodic, confusing calls and movements for reform it arouses. We are, in a sense, little more than a small, lone figure adrift on an ocean. We certainly don’t command the waves. But that doesn’t mean we can’t ride them. What Child Neurology needs to demonstrate in the coming years – and where better to begin than “Surf City, USA”? – is that rare blend of coiled athletic grace and creative genius that enables the kind of world class surfers drawn to huntington Beach to anticipate how and where the waves invisibly build, then ride them (ride with them) safely, even thrillingly to shore. It needs to hone the attitude and the aptitude that allows good surfers to willingly trade the risks of failing and falling for the rewards of creatively envisioning and patiently developing a better way to read, react to, and ride the waves.
It’s interesting to note that if one sets aside the dominant male/surfer boy imagery often associated with the sport and isolates the character traits that make up a great surfer, it’s much the same list that turns up in articles about women trying to balance personal and professional lives, hoping to excel in both: qualities of grace, strength, intelligence, balance, adaptability, resiliency and resolve. Which may in an odd way explain why child neurology might not merely survive but actually thrive in the coming years. One of the real strengths of Child Neurology is the notably high and growing concentration of supremely gifted, sensibly balanced and generously humane women proving themselves equal to finding and riding the right wave for them, for their peers, for their patients and, for many of them, their family. Ann Tilton comes readily to mind: the second of only four women to be elected CNS President, and the recipient this year of the Hower Award. or Donna Ferriero: the third woman elected CNS President, and the lone member of that elite group chosen to deliver the Bernard Sachs Lecture (2006).
I vividly recall walking into the hotel restaurant in Savannah last October and chancing upon as remarkable a gathering of women as I have seen in person. There sat the (then) CNS President, donna Ferriero, flanked by her good friends, the 2011 Sachs and Hower Award lecturers, Laura Ment and Deborah Hirtz. having just sent my daughter off to college, my first thought was how much I wished she could be here to meet and bear witness to what, one generation ago, seemed hardly possible: three friends, all women, all brilliant, all well respected and officially recognized in an enormously challenging field by their peers, and all splendid parents of adult children now grown up and off on their own. i don’t know how many other such scenes like this might be witnessed in other such medical meetings or gatherings. Not many, i suspect. or how many other professional societies blessed with as many enormously bright, capable men as the CNS, could (or would) nominate a pair of women as intellectually gifted, professionally committed, and personally gracious to run for its highest office as the CNS did this past summer with Pat Crumrine and Nina Schor.
Attitude and aptitude – to say nothing of that long list of qualities “surfer-girls” seem to have – are not by themselves enough, of course. having or choosing the right tools, the right board, matters too. a lot. Which is why the CNS President, Steve Roach and the Executive Committee have authorized development of a substantially more robust and dynamic website, set to launch January 1. To extend the metaphor: casual web surfing, won’t do. We need a website that opens up and supports effective channels of communication and collaboration within child neurology and between child neurology and other committed partners and allies in science and medicine. We need, via the Web, to ride alongside or follow in the wake of others when possible and resourcefully chart our own course when necessary. a good website will extend the waves rising up out of committee and Special Interest Group Meetings in Huntington Beach – ”where the next 40 years begins” – and will do so in exciting new eye catching ways, compelling others (e.g. med students) to take notice and maybe join in the excitement of catching the next wave. (on the subject of tools, i would urge you to consider attending the Friday morning Legislative Affairs Committee Seminar, “Advocacy 101”.)
Steve Roach’s closing comment in the letter from the President on page 2 bears repeating: “What an exciting time to be a child neurologist!”. That sentiment– that sense of wonder – is something I’ve been hearing a lot lately. I heard it last spring at Boston Children’s, listening to Scott Pomeroy rattling off a list of remarkable breakthroughs in neurological research and treatment before running on about the growing number of incredibly gifted young people coming into Child Neurology in recent years. and I heard it again last week, this time as an echo, reading the profile Scott wrote about one of those many bright and capable young neuroscientists entering the field, this year’s Philip R. dodge Young Investigator award recipient, Yoon-Jae Cho.
Turns out he’s an avid surfer. I take that to be a good sign. don’t you?