Duke magazine profiles Bedlack's compassion and optimism in treating ALS
In the examining room at the Duke Neurological Disorders Clinic, Richard Bedlack looks more like the eccentric rock star he wanted to be growing up than the physician he became.
At a youthful fifty-one, he wears his salt-and-pepper hair in an upswept typhoon wave. On this September day, he’s wearing a midnight purple suit and black pointy-toed boots, his long, lanky frame evoking a mid-’60s Carnaby Street style à la British modrock hero Paul Weller (or singer Elvis Costello, if your eyes fixate on his big black-rimmed glasses).
But there’s a weathered black leather doctor’s bag on the floor next to him. It was a gift from his parents when Bedlack graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine in 1995. Despite the finery he’s wearing, it’s the old-fashioned accessory that reveals the most about him.
At the moment, sixty-eight-year-old Martha “Marty” Stephens has his full attention. She was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS) in March 2016.
She’s still verbal, and she gets around mostly on a three-wheeled Pride Go-Go scooter. Stephens does a lot less walking with her braces now. She gets winded when doing simple tasks, like getting dressed.
Bedlack performs a quick but thorough physical exam, tapping her elbows and knees. Her right knee doesn’t show much reflex. Stephens tells Bedlack her left hand is weaker than it was at the last visit. She’s right-handed.
“Are you still cutting your food okay?” Bedlack asks.
“I get…a lot of help,” she answers, as her husband, Jim Stephens, watches nearby.
In his chair, Bedlack leans in to listen as she talks. He tells her that the weakness in her arm and both legs has not progressed as much as he expected. “You were progressing pretty fast for a while there,” he says. “I don’t know why you’ve leveled out, but I’ll take it. Have you been taking any supplements that might account for that?” She replies that she hasn’t.