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"There is no greater gift"

Thankful for Steven Zeiler's care of her late husband, Jackie Lapidus supports the neurologist's efforts to revolutionize stroke recovery
Posted June 20, 2017
Steven Zeiler (left) speaks with Jackie Lapidus (right) about the latest developments in his research on stroke recovery, which she has supported with current-use and planned gifts. Steven Zeiler (left) speaks with Jackie Lapidus (right) about the latest developments in his research on stroke recovery, which she has supported with current-use and planned gifts.

Len Lapidus' story doesn't have a fairy-tale ending, but it does have an inspiring one. He died in 2016 after suffering from Parkinson's-like symptoms for more than five years, but not before he and his wife, Jackie, developed a strong bond with Steven Zeiler, the Hopkins physician who treated him. Shortly after Len died, Jackie, grateful for Zeiler's compassionate care, committed to support the assistant professor of neurology. Jackie followed through with a $20,000 gift to advance Zeiler's research and, later, documented a sizable bequest to support Zeiler as well as the Department of Neurology's research on atypical Parkinson's Disease.

"I wanted to make a gift that helps others benefit from Steve's work," Jackie says.

That work centers on stroke recovery. Even with the best, most acute therapies available, Zeiler says, about 65 percent of stroke survivors have motor deficits that affect their daily lives. He investigates how interventions — particularly physical activity and nutrition — can affect recovery in stroke patients, in both the near and long term. Current research shows that early and intense motor training after a stroke can produce better outcomes than keeping someone confined to a bed for a protracted period of time.

"That sounds counterintuitive to classic recovery wisdom, but Len was a great example of this," Zeiler says. He recalls Len asking him repeatedly throughout his treatment when he'd be allowed to exercise and go to the gym like he'd done in the past. "He lived a long time with his symptoms, and I'm convinced that his athleticism, his exercise, and his determination made that possible."

Len's presentation included strokes, memory and language problems, progressive weakness, tremors, and severe orthostatic hypotension — precipitous and debilitating drops in blood pressure upon standing. But none of them added up to a single etiology, "anything we could point a finger at and say 'ah yes, there's a smoking gun, that's the reason. Let's attack that," Zeiler says.

But Zeiler persisted, Jackie says, trying different combinations of therapies and medications to mitigate her husband's symptoms and charting the vital signs she sent him every week.

"Len lived as well as and probably as long as he could have with Steve's relentless search for solutions," she says. "There was no need for a painful review of 'what ifs' as Len was dying — and there is no greater gift than that."

During her years observing Zeiler's methodical treatment of her husband's symptoms, Jackie witnessed his analytic approach firsthand, which gave her confidence in his potential to revolutionize stroke treatment in innovative and inexpensive ways. Her $20,000 gift shortly after her husband's death helped Zeiler and his team push forward one of its newest research ideas related to nutrition and stroke recovery. The team plans to publish its results soon (and therefore Zeiler's holding those findings close to the vest for now).

Gifts like Jackie's, Zeiler says, are a validating force propelling faculty like him into new, impactful avenues of research. But in an era of dwindling support from traditional sources, private philanthropy is also becoming a basic necessity.

"If we want to keep advancements moving, we need funding, and wherever that funding comes from is wonderful," he says. "Direct feedback from a grateful patient or family in the form of a gift not only inspires us — it's what will keep the lights on, literally and figuratively, for us."

To learn more about how you can support stroke recovery and Parkinson's-related research at Johns Hopkins, please contact Katherine Quindlen, associate director of development, or Kaylin Kopcho, senior associate director of development, Department of Neurology.