Harvard doctor lectures on curing children’s illnesses, research on newborn diagnostics

TEMP ORARY November 14, 2012 0

On Thursday Nov. 8, Elizabethtown College hosted Dr. Holmes Morton’s lecture, “Roads Taken: Recollections, Words, and Images” in Gibble Auditorium to enlighten the community about diagnosing newborn diseases before they permanently affect a child’s life. The lecture gave the audience a full spectrum of what his study is all about and what Morton is trying to accomplish.
Morton’s goals for this lecture were to advise people that his research and clinic are very important not only to people who live in the Lancaster area, but also, the nation as a whole. He described the illnesses that have become the most common in newborn babies but also explained how he can cure them before the baby even takes his or her first step. This is a very serious topic because certain illnesses like Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD), Medium Chain Acyl-CoA Dehydrogenase Deficiency (MCADD), and glutaric aciduria type 1 have become common in the Lancaster area and mostly affects Amish people. According to PubMed Health, MSUD is “a metabolism disorder passed down through families in which the body cannot break down certain parts of proteins.” As a result, the infant’s urine can actually smell like maple syrup.
Morton co-founded the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg Pa. with his wife Caroline. Together they wanted to find cures for the illnesses that were taking over the Lancaster area and use their knowledge for the greater good. This clinic is a non-profit organization that helps many newborn infants all over the nation beat their diseases while having a healthy and successful life. Even though this clinic has gotten national recognition, its noblest achievement was its success with MSUD, which is commonly found in the Amish community. Even though the clinic is located on an Amish farm near Strasburg in Lancaster County, Morton deals with patients all around the United States who need his help.
Morton graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn. in 1979, receiving honors in biology and psychology. He later studied at Harvard Medical School and completed a three-year residency in pediatrics at a local children’s hospital. Caring for children has been a passion for Morton his entire life. He then worked with Richard Kelley and Hugo Moser as they moved to Johns Hopkins University, where he practiced in the Kennedy Krieger Institute to develop techniques for diagnosis and treatment of the prevalent Amish diseases. This resulted in developing his current clinic in the Lancaster area in 1989.
“There is no better way to advance our proper cause of medicine than give our mind to the discovery of the unusual law of Nature and finding a cure for rarer diseases,” Morton said. One of his first slides displayed this quote, which he feels very strongly about. This is what he has devoted his life to. Morton has treated more than 2,300 patients during his time in this study and his work has really made in impact. He has diagnosed and treated 134 patients with MSUD, 93 patients with glutaric aciduria type 1, and 42 patients with MCADD. His research has done wonders for the Amish community, which is directly affected by the diseases that have been prevalent in the Lancaster area.
Morton has treated many infants for certain diseases. Many have been diagnosed and mostly cured, which help them have normal, healthy lives. MSUD is a disease that can lead to mental retardation as well as symptoms like malnutrition and disruption of brain development. Nikki Gai was the first patient that Morton diagnosed with MSUD. Diagnosed at birth, Gai is now forty-five years old and lives a healthy and normal life. She suffered symptoms of mental impairment early in life but is now fully functioning.
Brain scanning is a major part of diagnosing certain diseases simply because this allows you to see how the brain is functioning. There are many diseases that cannot be detected by the average citizen or by those around them, which is why brain scanning is only practiced when the patient is having certain symptoms. Certain diseases like MCADD can be diagnosed using this technique. There are 12 million MCADD carriers in the United States and 220,130 in Pennsylvania alone.
During his lecture on Nov. 8, Morton shared essays that people have written in relation to the diseases and his study in general. These messages he shared were not only factual, but moving, as some were from patients and witnesses of the diseases. As Morton read these stories to the audience, he too became emotional just thinking about what these diseases do and how young children are affected by them every day.
Morton’s clinic is not only helping the Amish community and the Lancaster area, but children throughout the nation. Morton has fought countless battles with these diseases and is proving to be successful with his diagnoses, mainting his passion for the competent medical care of children.

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