Dr. Neil Spector: A Legacy RememberedHonoring the patient, physician, and world-class medical researcher who changed the Lyme world.
By Dorothy Kupcha Leland
D r. Neil Spector held a special place in the hearts of members of the Lyme disease community. He was a patient, a physician, and a world-class medical researcher, all rolled into one. He was also a poet, a voice of kindness and empathy, and a riveting public speaker. We were collectively saddened to hear of his death on June 14.
Dr. Spector first came to the attention of Lyme patients with the 2015 publication of his memoir Gone in a Heartbeat: A Physician’s Search for True Healing. In it, this well-regarded scientist describes how, out of the blue, he began to have heart-related symptoms. But the top doctors he consulted chalked it all up to “stress,” merely suggesting that he learn to relax more. Yet, the heart problems continued, in time leading to the need for a pacemaker, and then an internal defibrillator.
On his own, Dr. Spector finally figured out that he his heart problems were rooted in Lyme disease. However, he lived in Florida at the time, and the prevailing medical wisdom was that he couldn’t possibly have Lyme disease in that state. Thus, he had to turn elsewhere for official diagnosis and treatment. (That’s a phenomenon we now call “misdiagnosis by geography.” Unfortunately, it’s still a huge problem throughout the country.)
Although Spector eventually did receive treatment for Lyme, it was too little, too late. By then, the damage to his heart was past the point of no return. One Friday, his doctor told him he’d be dead by Monday without a heart transplant. Fortuitously, a donor was found, he received a new heart, and lived to write a gripping account of the experience.
Dr. Spector made remarkable contributions to the Lyme Disease community
Gone in a Heartbeat is a remarkable contribution on its own. Yet, that was only the beginning of what Spector brought to our community. He often said he wanted to bring Lyme disease treatment into the twenty-first century. Professionally, he marshaled his considerable expertise from the world of cancer treatment (which has made huge strides in recent years) and sought to apply it to the treatment of tick-borne disease (which has seen little progress in the last 40 years.) At the time of his death, Spector and his team at North Carolina’s Duke University were deep into cutting-edge research.
Dr. Spector often said he wanted to bring Lyme disease treatment into the twenty-first century.