The epilepsy community suffered a devastating loss with the news that Susan S. Spencer, MD, died suddenly from an acute intestinal illness on May 21, while vacationing in Utah.
At the time of her death, Dr. Spencer, an internationally recognized expert in epilepsy, was a professor of neurology and neurosurgery and co-director of the Yale Epilepsy Program at the Yale School of Medicine with her husband, Dennis D. Spencer, MD, the Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Neurosurgery and chair of the department of neurosurgery.
In telephone interviews and e-mail messages, leaders in the field responded to her untimely death with a mixture of shock and sadness.
“Susan was a leading light within the Yale neurology department,” said Neurology Chair Stephen G. Waxman, MD, PhD, the Bridget Marie Flaherty Professor Neurology, Neurobiology, and Pharmacology at Yale. “She was at the forefront internationally in epilepsy, regarded around the world as the leading authority on indications for, and outcome from, epilepsy surgery. Here at Yale she was recognized by all as an exemplar of excellence both as a researcher and as a wonderful clinician-teacher.”
“The suddenness of her death, in a person as vital and well-loved as Susan was, has left us reeling and searching for answers,” Ensign Professor of Medicine and Dean Robert J. Alpern, MD, wrote in a message to Yale medical school faculty.
Dr. Spencer, a native of Budapest, Hungary, grew up in Yonkers, NY, and first came to Yale as a neurology resident in 1975 after earning her medical degree from the University of Rochester. From her earliest days as a neurology resident and fellow, she assumed a leading role in research in the area of epilepsy surgery, and went on to publish more than 200 original manuscripts and chapters on the subject.
Among her leadership roles, she served as president of the American Epilepsy Society (AES) in 2000 and vice president of the American Neurological Society in 2001. She also served on the AAN board of directors from 2001–2003, was past chair of the AAN Clinical Research Subcommittee, as well as a member of the AAN Science Committee, Neurology editorial board, and the AAN Foundation Research Council. In addition, she co-founded and co-edited the AES journal Epilepsy Currents from 2001 to 2009.
Andres M. Kanner, MD, professor of neurological sciences at Rush Medical College and director of the EEG Laboratory at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, served with Dr. Spencer on the AES task force on clinical research. “Susan's contributions in epilepsy surgery were monumental,” he told Neurology Today. “She was extremely bright, and the kind of person who could translate ideas into concrete projects that yielded important information. She knew how to apply ideas from science to the bedside.”
“Many of the most pivotal studies on epilepsy surgery came from her collaborative work with her husband Dennis,” he continued. “From a neurologist's perspective, she created an approach for epilepsy surgery for patients who were pharmacoresistant.”
Dr. Kanner recalled that in his early training days as a neurology resident at Mount Sinai Medical School, he first learned about Dr. Spencer as the head of the leading epilepsy center in the US. “At that time, you either sent your patient to Montreal's McGill or to Susan Spencer at Yale,” he said.
Dr. Spencer is survived by her husband Dennis and daughters, Joanna Spencer and Andrea Spencer; stepdaughter Kate Spencer; stepson Christopher Spencer; sisters Beth Weingarth and Karen Kimball; and her mother, Magda Schneider of Yonkers, NY.
Memorial contributions can be made to the American Epilepsy Society for the Susan Spencer Fund for Clinical Research and Education (c/o AES, 342 North Main St., West Hartford, CT, 06117, or by credit card online at www.aesnet.org).