ClaussenALS 275x275For 56 years, Birmingham neurologist Gwen Claussen, M.D., did it all. She chased sunsets in Hawaii, hiked canyon trails in Utah, skied the mountains of Colorado, and basked in the beauty of art and architecture in Italy. She dedicated herself to caring for her patients with ALS—amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease—and other neuromuscular disorders. She also devoted her life to sharing adventures with her husband of 32 years, Tom, and being a loving mother to her two adult sons, Matthew and Michael.

   

In April 2018, Claussen died tragically in a car accident. But her untimely death hasn’t diminished the impact she made on so many people. Family, friends, former patients, and longtime colleagues joined forces to create the Gwen Claussen, M.D., Endowed ALS Education and Research Fund in her honor.

“We wanted to pay tribute to her in a way that embodied her spirit and showed everyone who she was,” says Peter King, M.D., professor and vice chair of the Department of Neurology and chief of neurology for the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who counted Claussen as a friend and colleague for more than 24 years. “Gwen loved being an educator. She enjoyed helping trainees understand the material that had eluded them. She had an open door policy to those in need of help, and her patience was an inspiration to everyone in the neurology department.”

ALS GroupGwen Claussen (right) with Peter King (center) and another ALS faculty member circa 2009King conceived of the fund, which will support undergraduate students conducting ALS research at UAB. He has hosted many undergraduates in his lab throughout the years, and he says fostering that interest at an early age is the best and most practical way of getting the next generation involved in helping find new treatment options and ultimately a cure for ALS. The progressive neurodegenerative disease affects about 30,000 Americans, and there are few treatment options available for patients.

The fund has drawn great support from family, friends, colleagues, and former trainees, and Tom Claussen has made a significant gift to it. “ALS is a terrible disease,” he says. “If we can make some headway in correcting this disease, then that would be something good coming out of Gwen’s death.”

ClaussenGwen and Tom Claussen on one of their trips exploring the wonders of the U.S. and Canada.Before leaving to practice in Tuscaloosa in 2014, Gwen Claussen worked for 26 years at UAB. She established Alabama’s first ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic while at UAB, bringing together several specialists to treat patients more effectively and study the deadly disease. During her UAB career, she served as professor of neurology, director of the ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic, associate director of both the Neuromuscular Pathology Laboratory and the Neuromuscular Disease Laboratory, and fellowship director of the Neuromuscular Medicine Program. She earned many awards and accolades over her career, but she was proudest of her Argus Award for Best Neurology Attending Teaching presented by the residents at the end of each year.

For Tom Claussen and King, her memory lives on in the special attention she paid to her loved ones and patients. She made house calls to patients who could not make it to the clinic. “She was incredibly important to that population of people and was a lifeline for them,” says Tom Claussen. “She helped some of her immobile patients get walking again.”

“She had the most generous spirit,” adds King. “She lived to help those around her, and she was the smartest person in the room with the most compassion anyone could have. I’m glad her legacy will be honored at UAB.”

By Emily Henagan; Matt Windsor contributed to this article

To give to ALS care and research at UAB, contact Katye Fuglaar at (205) 934-0792 or kcf@uab.edu.