Dr. Jeanne Lusher never saw anything like it before. The bruises were certainly from some sort of trauma, and yet they were so alarming that all sorts of questions came to mind. What could cause this in an 18 month old girl?
Dr. Lusher was early in her tenure as a resident at New Orleans’s Charity Hospital, a massive 3000 bed medical center with a tradition of caring for the poor. It was 1961. She was new to the Emergency Room. "We saw everything from snake bites to polio," she remembers. "We were always on call, but I'll never forget that day."
It was the kind of day that would impact Jeanne for a lifetime, and in turn, cause Jeanne to impact thousands, maybe millions, throughout her career.
"Soon enough we found out that the little girl had a rare instance of female hemophilia," according to Dr. Lusher. "I didn't know anything about the disease at the time, knew very little about blood coagulation, and, I wanted to learn more." The girl's family didn't know anything about hemophilia either. Nobody remembered any history of hemophilia in their families.
The daughter of an American father and a French Canadian mother, Jeanne Lusher did something that was all-too-rare for a young woman of the day. She not only went to college, but earned a medical degree. Both were from the University of Cincinnati. From there, she was off to Charity for her residency in Pediatrics.
It wasn’t too long after she met the bruised little girl, that Dr. Lusher’s skills were recognized with her advancement to Charity’s Chief Resident of Pediatrics. “We had a lot of kids with cancer,” Dr. Lusher remembers. “I felt responsible for them all.” So when a faculty member – their expert in hematology and oncology – left the hospital for another job, the Chairman of Pediatrics asked her to go to Detroit to study Hematology/Oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, with the idea that she would eventually take her colleague’s place.
From Detroit she went to Washington University in St. Louis for more experience and education. It was in St. Louis, with that bruised little girl still on her mind, that Dr. Lusher started digging deeper into the science of blood clotting. She never went back to New Orleans. Dr. Lusher returned to Michigan for the rest of her career.
It’s hard to overstate Dr. Lusher’s impact on hemophilia and the blood disorder community. In fact, she even has a Wikipedia page that outlines her many accomplishments (“One of my students put it up,” she says with some embarrassment, “he insisted on it.”) It’s clear that she’s admired for her medical achievements, but just spending a few minutes talking with her, and you can see how people admire her personally, too. That’s what has driven the dedication of her many, many students, and her contributions to the National Hemophilia Foundation.
“I first got involved with the Hemophilia Foundation of Michigan,” she recalls. “I was on the board, and then served as chairman.”
It was the start of lifetime commitment to NHF and its chapters. Over time, Dr. Lusher has served as NHF’s Associate Medical Director, then Medical Director during the AIDS crisis, and the AIDS task force. She helped redesign the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council (MASAC) and became a member in 1990. Dr. Lusher went on to chair the group for 7 years, until 2001. Along the way she’s also been part of the Women with Bleeding Disorders Committee, served on NHF’s national board of directors, and of course, attended many NHF national conferences. “I vividly remember when Alan Brownstein was NHF’s Executive Director,” she recalls with a smile, “He was a very dynamic and dedicated person who would often hold late evening calls that would go on for hours. We’d talk about some very important medical issues. Some nights we didn’t end until 1 AM or later!”
While the work has almost always been a pleasure (“I’m very impressed with the people on staff and the volunteers,” she says. “All wonderful people”), all of her work with NHF and NHF chapters is for one purpose: helping her patients. “It’s been so helpful to work on common problems with colleagues,” Dr. Lusher says. “Looking for evidence based treatments. Discussing unsolved issues and what was the ‘state of the art.’ Reviewing international studies. Making recommendations. It was always helpful to interact with colleagues who could discuss complicated patient problems. We put out articles and developed programs for blood safety and other hemophilia related issues. The work we did was terrifically rewarding!”
It’s because she sees so much more to do to address bleeding disorders that Dr. Lusher has left NHF in her will. “My whole experience with NHF has been positive,” she tells us. “The organization and people are great. And there are new things all the time that need addressing. In 1980 who would have imagined the disaster caused by AIDS? Now, thank goodness, we have synthetic clotting factors , both VIII and IX. Who knows what’s next? NHF has advocated for insurance coverage, and they’ve been there to educate families new to bleeding disorders. Then there’s the research. It’s a really worthy cause.”
Yet without Dr. Jeanne Lusher and her encounter with a small, badly bruised child, who knows how much more there would be to do? It’s hard to tell who made more impact on whom – NHF or Dr. Lusher? But it’s clear that both made, and will continue to make a difference in the lives of the girls and boys, and men and women with hemophilia.