Medical Staff Profile: Ben Thrower, M.D.
Q & A with Ben Thrower, M.D., Medical Director Andrew C. Carlos Multiple Sclerosis Institute
Q: Why did you become a doctor?
A: I was always interested in science, particularly in biology, which was my initial major at Florida State University. But I quickly realized there were not a lot of jobs in biology, plus I really like working with people. So after my freshman year, I decided to change to pre-med. I was then accepted into the University of Florida College of Medicine, but I kept football allegiance to FSU. I couldn’t cross that line.
Q: What drew you to the specialty of neurology and then to the treatment of MS?
A: I found the brain and spinal cord interesting and I focused on neurology. My wife and I met in med school, and she’d taken an Air Force scholarship when we had met, so we were at the mercy of the Air Force as to where we’d live. They sent her to San Antonio, and I’d spent a month at UT-San Antonio and got a training slot in neurology and did four years of residency there. She then owed her payback time to the Air Force, and they sent us to Spokane, Wash. There, I was in private practice, and that part of the country has a high rate of MS. Fifty percent of my practice was treating MS patients, and I found that I really enjoyed working with them. I also realized it took more than just a neurologist to manage them in a comprehensive fashion. I started envisioning a comprehensive center for MS in Spokane. The Providence Health System there gave us space and some therapists to start this comprehensive approach. But my wife and I were missing the Southeast. I got a call about a position at Shepherd Center. I knew of Shepherd and I wanted to get closer to family, and I knew that Shepherd had more resources than we had in Spokane. So I joined the medical staff at Shepherd in June 2001.
Q: For you, what makes Shepherd Center an excellent place to practice medicine?
A: Shepherd has the most comprehensive package to offer patients. Some other facilities do a great job of clinical trials, some offer good rehabilitation or great support services, but Shepherd offers the whole package. I feel very blessed to have such a great spectrum of services here. Looking at the bigger picture, I like the balance between clinical practice and the academic environment. We work with residents, fellows and medical students, but we don’t carry the bureaucracy that a university system would. We’re able to adapt to change and improve quickly.
Q: How much does it mean to you to have recently received the Patients’ Choice Award from Vitals.com?
A: It was gratifying. Our whole team believes strongly in customer service, which means serving our patients. The MS community is very Internet-savvy. If you do good things, the word gets out.
Q: What are some of the most promising new drug therapies for treating MS?
A: This year, we got FDA approval for Ampyra, the first drug that shows improvement in walking for many patients who take it. We hope to have approval for an oral immune therapy for MS later this year. It’s the first such drug that is not an injectable, and people like that. We’re studying drugs that are more effective than the current options and hope they will stop the progression of MS. The challenge with immune therapies is to make sure they are not only effective, but also safe.
Q: Realistically, where might we be in a decade when it comes to treatment, prevention or a cure for MS?
A: I hope for therapies that are easier and more effective, and I hope for the ability to custom tailor the therapy to the individual. There are a variety of ways MS presents itself, and there are different immune pathologies. Currently, we make educated guesses as to those pathologies. In the next 10 years, I think biomarkers will let us know for sure what we are dealing with in a given individual with MS. Also, I’d hope for some options for neural repair. That’s, of course, the Holy Grail of neurology. We want to be able to push the clock backward and repair damage. I think we will see some movement in that over the next decade.
Interesting Facts: Ben Thrower, M.D.
• Dr. Thrower’s wife, Karen, is a pediatrician practicing in the Atlanta area. They have three children: Stephanie, 17; Nathan, 12; and Sam, 10.
• He loves Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Caribbean pirates,such as the movie character, Capt. Jack Sparrow.• He and his wife participate in the Pirates of the Chilibean Stone Mountain Chili Cook-off Team.
Interviewed by Bill Sanders
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 935 inpatients, 541 day program patients and more than 7,300 outpatients each year.