Refusing the Refuge of a Less Demanding Life

M.D. with MD Receives MDA Personal Achievement Award

Article Highlights:
  • John Quinlan, of Lakeside Park, Ky., directs the MDA Clinic at the University of Cincinnati and recently was awarded the 2010 Robert Ross MDA Personal Achievement Award (PAA).
  • The PAA (named after MDA’s late president and CEO) recognizes the accomplishments and community service of a person registered with MDA.
by Amy Madsen on October 1, 2009 - 11:55am

QUEST Vol. 16, No. 4

John Quinlan, of Lakeside Park, Ky., has two criteria for doing most things, says his wife, Laura Sams. “He asks, one, ‘Will it accomplish something?’ And two, ‘Will I have fun doing it?’ He does not allow himself to give less than full effort to anything.”

Determination and drive have led Quinlan, director of the MDA Clinic at the University of Cincinnati (UC), to a great many accomplishments, including his latest — receiving the 2010 Robert Ross MDA Personal Achievement Award (PAA).

Each year, the PAA (named after MDA’s late president and CEO) recognizes the accomplishments and community service of a person registered with MDA. Quinlan’s selection was announced on the national broadcast of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon over Labor Day weekend.

This is the first time in the 18-year history of the award that it’s been presented to an MDA clinic director who has a disorder covered by the Association.

M.D. and three degrees

Quinlan, 56, learned he has facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) around the time he turned 15. It didn’t deter him from pursuing a career in medicine, an interest piqued in his grade-school days by his family doctor, John Ring.

In a little over a decade, beginning in 1975, Quinlan completed a bachelor’s degree in science at the University of Notre Dame; a master’s in physiology at the University of Chicago; a doctorate in medicine at the University of Illinois; an internship in medicine at Cook County Hospital in Chicago; and a residency in neurology and clinical and research fellowships at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

In 1987, Quinlan was appointed to the neurology faculty at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine and named a professor of neurology in 2005. There, says Henry Grinvalsky, former co-director of the MDA Clinic at UC, he established himself as “an extraordinary clinician, teacher, mentor, administrator, counselor and scientific investigator.”

“Having muscular dystrophy certainly affected my career choices,” Quinlan says. “The physical limitations guided me to an academic practice/teaching environment. The personal experiences and fondness for neurophysiology pulled me to work in neuromuscular diseases.” 

Quinlan became co-director of the MDA Clinic at UC in July 1987, and director in 2000. There he attends to patients with neuromuscular diseases, some with the same muscle disease he has.

Says Grinvalsky, Quinlan is a “‘physician’s physician.’ His patients consistently acknowledge John’s patience, empathy and sensitivity, optimism, ability to listen and communicate, and advocacy on their behalf.”

A dogged determination

For the last three years, Quinlan has been unable to walk or stand, but continues to practice medicine and pursue his favorite pastimes, which include movies, Notre Dame football and dining with friends. A scooter and ramped minivan are chief among Quinlan’s tools for maintaining mobility and independence.

“He has availed himself of every reasonable device and adaptive equipment to continue a full-time career, to our collective benefit,” Grinvalsky says. “He has refused the refuge of a less demanding life.”

In addition to volunteering with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Quinlan is an annual participant in the local broadcast of the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon; serves as a resource for MDA support groups; and is an active member of the MDA Task Force on Public Awareness and the MDA National Clinical Services Advisory Committee. He’s also an MDA national vice president, a volunteer position.

Quinlan says having a muscle disease has made him aware of his particular advantages.

“We are all different, and we all face different problems,” he says. But, “life has an amazing number of possibilities. Even when a disease eliminates 50 percent of the choices, there still are wonderful opportunities out there.”

To those who are newly diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease, he advises:

“Find a career you love that relies on your mind and fits with your personality. A tremendous number of careers require that you use your mind and your communication abilities.

“Live life fully. Help others and have fun.”

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