Exploring a Final Frontier

"I actually wanted to come back after Katrina,” says Dr. John D. England. “I thought that people should come back to New Orleans to help with the redevelopment of the medical center at Louisiana State University and the rebirth of New Orleans.”

England, who was born and raised in West Virginia, spent almost a decade as a professor at Louisiana State University’s medical school in New Orleans until 2001. He returned last November to chair the Neurology Department at LSU.

“I fell in love with New Orleans right away,” England says. “The people here are some of the best people. So, I wanted to come back to do something for New Orleans.”

It is his devotion to this city that brought him back to help rebuild our medical community. But long before he found a home here, England’s first home had inspired his career.

“When I was growing up in a small town in West Virginia, my family and I had a wonderful family physician who really influenced me to become a doctor,” England says. As a young boy, England admired his doctor’s ability to solve any problem. He saw the doctor as a respected man in the community who was driven to help anybody with any problem.

“When I would see him for routine visits,” England says. “I would talk to him about what it was like to be a doctor. He encouraged me and told me that it was the best thing to do because it was always interesting. Not only could you learn a lot but you could help people in a very direct way.”

When England set out to be a doctor, he wanted to be just like his mentor but his studies opened his mind to the many disciplines of medicine from which he chose neurology. “It’s kind of the final frontier in medicine,” England says. “It involves everything that makes us human, what allows us to reason, be awake and solve problems.”

Neurology has intrigued England with the complexity of its cases and grappling with what medicine still doesn’t know. Still, there are some cases that remind England of what medicine can do. “There was a young woman who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome,” he says. “Actually, she was engaged to be married to a pathology resident just a few months later.”

England explains the syndrome as an acute illness that often comes on after an infection causing extreme weakness. The syndrome was once fatal and still can be, but treatments have been developed.

“So, she was in the ICU, couldn’t move and on a ventilator months before she was getting married,” England says. “The team worked together and diagnosed her condition and treated her. Over the next two or three months she made a full recovery despite some weakness in her feet.

“It was actually reassuring. She was a young woman, in her early 20s and this could’ve killed her or she could’ve been severely disabled but we treated her and she was able to go and get married and have a nice life.”

For doctors in such high-risk specialties, it’s these success stories that affirm their belief in their ability to help.

Despite his focus and success in his field, England never lost the comprehensive mindset that he admired in his mentor. He sees possibilities for more collaborative care in the recovering medical community in New Orleans.

“I think we need to rethink the way we deliver healthcare, the access to it, the quality of it,” England says. “I don’t suppose that I have all the answers but I am always willing to listen to other people’s ideas.

“By bringing people together with coordinating programs, we can develop something that is bigger than what one can do alone.”

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