A Fresh Approach to ALS
Dr. Amparo (“Amy”) Gutierrez has always been driven. Her path to medicine began at a very young age, when she would tell her mother that she was going to become a doctor one day. Today, as a professor of clinical neurology and the director of the neurology residency program at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center–New Orleans School of Medicine, she is able to share that lifelong passion with her students and her patients.
Dr. Gutierrez was intrigued by how the brain functions, and, after graduating from medical school in the Dominican Republic, she entered her residency at LSU Healthcare Network in Psychiatry. She then realized she wanted to learn more about the way the brain works with the rest of the body, so she also completed a residency in Neurology. During her rotations, Dr. Gutierrez enjoyed her work in the muscular dystrophy arena and always tried to work more in LSUHSC’s multidisciplinary MDA clinic that serviced patients with neuromuscular disorders.
In 2013, Dr. Gutierrez was integral in bringing another dimension to the clinic so it could better serve patients suffering from ALS, a rare disease that attacks the nervous system by weakening muscles and affecting physical function. Sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the interdisciplinary clinic at LSUHSC is the first MDA/ALS center in Louisiana. This designation recognizes the high standards of care offered by Dr. Gutierrez and her team of specialized physicians and therapists, including a pulmonologist; respiratory, physical and speech therapists; a nurse; and a social worker — all of whom are skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of ALS.
“The LSU MDA/ALS Clinic takes an interdisciplinary and inter-professional approach to treating ALS patients,” explains Dr. Gutierrez, who serves as the clinic’s director. “At our clinic, patients and their families are able to meet with our comprehensive medical team in a more communal environment, which we have found to be very successful and our patients really enjoy. Patients meet with the physicians privately, but our therapists will visit with each patient in a large, open room in sort of a rotating format.”
Dr. Gutierrez says that this open format encourages greater social connections between patients and families, making it almost like a support group. “Patients aren’t isolated or stuck in a room,” says Dr. Gutierrez, “and they don’t have to take several days out of each month to go see different therapists. This is extremely helpful as a patient’s condition progresses, and it becomes harder to travel. They can have all their needs met in a single day and build relationships at the same time. This is truly patient-centered care!”
Dr. Gutierrez says this inter-professional, interdisciplinary clinic format is a growing trend nationwide in treating chronic diseases, as it allows for different therapists, specialists and physicians to all be on the same page with each other and the patient, while also providing an environment where the entire family can find holistic support. She enjoys being able to share this new approach with her students and residents, and she has seen this focus on building a better standard of and continuity of care lead to an “aha moment” for many medical students.
“It is so rewarding for me to pass on this passion, knowledge and love for neurology,” Dr. Gutierrez says. “It’s interesting to think that one day, one of these students could be the researcher who really makes a huge difference in the field.”
Research, says Dr. Gutierrez, is the key to making strides in this rare but devastating disease. She says that The Gleason Initiative Foundation has been very generous with providing funds for the clinic, as well as drawing attention and support to the disease.
“Luckily, this disease is quite rare, but, because of that, you don’t have support that more common diseases can gain,” Dr. Gutierrez explains. “Public awareness and ability to raise money is extremely important, and that is something that Steve Gleason has really brought to the disease locally as well as nationally.”
The LSU MDA/ALS Clinic sees patients two days per month and treats about 16 patients per day with a morning and afternoon rotation. Most patients visit the clinic quarterly.
Dr. Amparo Gutierrez, M.D., FAAN
St. Charles Ave. Multi-Specialty
3700 St. Charles Ave., 4th Floor
New Orleans, LA 70115
MEDICAL SCHOOL – Universidad Central del Este Facultad de Medicina, Dominican Republic
RESIDENCY – Dual Residency, Neurology and Psychiatry; Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center–New Orleans School of Medicine FELLOWSHIP – Clinical Neurological Physiology and Neuromuscular Diseases
BOARD CERTIFICATIONS – Neurology, American Association of Psychiatry and Neurology; Muscular Diseases, American Academy of Neuromuscular Medicine