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Dr. Feelgood Using sartorial style and a patient-centric approach, Richard Bedlack offers optimism in his quest to cure and treat those with ALS.

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BY DANNY HOOLEY PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALEX BOERNER + SHAWN ROCCO

n the examining room at the Duke Neuro- doesn’t show much reflex. Stephens tells Bedlack her logical Disorders Clinic, Richard Bedlack left hand is weaker than it was at the last visit. She’s looks more like the eccentric rock star he right-handed. wanted to be growing up than the physician “Are you still cutting your food okay?” Bedlack asks. he became. “I get…a lot of help,” she answers, as her husband, At a youthful fifty-one, he wears his salt-and-pep- Jim Stephens, watches nearby. per hair in an upswept typhoon wave. On this SepIn his chair, Bedlack leans in to listen as she talks. tember day, he’s wearing a midnight purple suit and He tells her that the weakness in her arm and both black pointy-toed boots, his long, lanky frame evok- legs has not progressed as much as he expected. “You ing a mid-’60s Carnaby Street style à la British mod- were progressing pretty fast for a while there,” he says. rock hero Paul Weller (or singer Elvis Costello, if your “I don’t know why you’ve leveled out, but I’ll take it. eyes fixate on his big black-rimmed glasses). Have you been taking any supplements that might But there’s a weathaccount for that?” She ered black leather docreplies that she hasn’t. tor’s bag on the floor Before he leaves “I save my best outfits for Tuesday, next to him. It was a the room, Bedlack offers to help her get in gift from his parents when I see my patients.” touch with a techniwhen Bedlack graduated from the University cian to adjust the motorized wheelchair at of Connecticut School of Medicine in 1995. Despite the finery he’s wearing, home that’s been vexing her. Then he asks her to look it’s the old-fashioned accessory that reveals the most over some upcoming ALS studies when she gets back and perhaps choose one to participate in—preferably about him. At the moment, sixty-eight-year-old Martha “Mar- one that doesn’t involve too many doctor visits, for ty” Stephens has his full attention. She was diagnosed her own comfort and convenience. with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS) in March Her husband drives her from their home in 2016. Fuquay-Varina about every ninety days for an apShe’s still verbal, and she gets around mostly on a pointment here. As always, the Stephenses have a three-wheeled Pride Go-Go scooter. Stephens does a long day ahead of them. They already had visited with lot less walking with her braces now. She gets winded occupational and physical therapists that day, before they even got to Bedlack. “It’s a multidisciplinary when doing simple tasks, like getting dressed. Bedlack performs a quick but thorough physical thing,” says Jim Stephens. “We see somewhere beexam, tapping her elbows and knees. Her right knee tween six and eight people every time we come out.”

ALS

30 www.dukemagazine.duke.edu

Alex Boerner

Fall 2017 Issue v. 3  
Fall 2017 Issue v. 3  

Includes Duke Forward campaign insert