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Focus on Anne Maureen Connolly, MD

Anne Connolly, MD, is a professor of neurology and pediatrics. Her areas of specialty include muscular dystrophy, congential myopathies, myasthenia gravis, neuropathies, and electromyography.

Dr. Connolly sees patients at the Neuroscience Center, the Center for Advanced Medicine, 4921 Parkview Place, 6th floor, Suite C, the McMillan Building, lower level, and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, One Children’s Place, Suite D.

FOR AN APPOINTMENT, PLEASE CALL 314 362-6981 (Neuromuscular office). Medical records are reviewed prior to scheduling an appointment.

What happened in the course of schooling to make you choose your specialty in pediatric neurology?

Pediatric neurology and adult neurology were not high on my list of specialties. I always thought I would go into pediatrics or internal medicine , so child neurology was scheduled as my last rotation in my third year of medical school. During that rotation, at Indiana University, William DeMyer, MD, taught me how to carefully examine children and I fell in love with the pediatric neurology specialty.

What brought you to Washington University?

I chose Washington University because of the phenomenal pediatric training program headed by James Keating, MD, MSc. To this day, I have never met a more spectacular scholar or better pediatric educator. I realized that with 12 child neurologists on staff, the pediatric neurology training program here was one of the best, if not the best in the country.

When Alan Pestronk, MD, came to Washington University, his mentorship, both as a clinician and a researcher in neuromuscular disorders, led me to focus on muscular dystrophy.
Anne Maureen Connolly, MD

Which aspect of your practice is most interesting?

There really are two areas. One is seeing the natural happiness of the children who are joyful in spite of facing challenges that most of us would never imagine. If they are fortunate enough to have loving parents, and most of them do, they often live fuller lives than many of us who have perfect health. The second part of my practice I enjoy is the ability to contribute to evolving basic and clinical science for treatments that may make children with neuromuscular disorders stronger.

Is your relationship with your patients life-long?

I’m trained in both child neurology and adult neurology. So once I take a patient, I keep him or her for life. About five-to-ten percent of my patients are adults. For example, if you have Duchenne muscular dystrophy and you’re diagnosed at age 5, I don’t stop taking care of you when you turn 20. I have admitting privileges at Barnes-Jewish and Children’s Hospital.

When the children get taller than me, I tell them, “I have to ask you an important question. Now that you are taller than me, do I still get to be your doctor?” I haven’t yet had anybody reject me for my height.

What new developments in your field are you most excited about?

Over the last 10-15 years, our knowledge of neuromuscular diseases has been revolutionized by the rapid understanding of what genes cause what problems in muscles and nerves. In the past five years, researchers in the field have been focusing on how to fix parts of those genes when they are broken and the medicines that might turn the genes back on. That work has been piloted in many, many animal studies, but is now also beginning to be tested in children.

What are you working on right now in terms of research?

We’re trying to determine which clinical outcomes are valid in boys and men with Duchenne muscular dystrophy. An example of an outcome is a strength measure or how fast one walks, and these have been well-studied in the boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy who are able to walk. But we are studying children who are very young infants— through age 5; and also those who have stopped walking who are usually older than ten.

The purpose for validating outcomes is to be able to prove that the child’s strength is consistently changing so that if a treatment becomes available, he or she might be eligible for the treatment. If a child who is very young has muscle weakness, there might be a good reason to start treatment. But you have to prove the outcomes are valid before you can give him or her medicine.

How is your time divided between seeing patients and research?

In addition to seeing patients one day a week, I do EMG (nerve conduction studies and electromyography) on adults and children. Those studies help diagnose neuropathy or myasthenia gravis – which can cause weakness and fatigue. The rest of the week and weekend is usually spent doing research. As my children are doing their homework, I usually have homework to do, too.

Does muscular dystrophy run in families?

Some disorders run in families, but in most genetic disorders both parents are asymptomatic carriers. This means the parents are perfectly healthy and the parent’s siblings are also perfectly healthy – so even though it is technically a genetic disease, the child is the very first one to show the disease. These disorders are called autosomal recessive disorders.

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in a large Irish family. I was the eighth of nine children born to two wonderful parents. Most of my family has stayed in the Midwest, but one lives in Dublin, Ireland.
The biggest difference between Fort Wayne and St. Louis is that Fort Wayne is 10 degrees cooler in the summer, but it’s also 10 degrees colder in the winter.
Which particular award or achievement is most gratifying?

From an academic point of view, my work in Duchenne and congenital muscular dystrophies working both with the children and mice has been very gratifying. On a personal level, I am most proud of my work as a mother of four wonderful children.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

My mother and father told me to “Work hard, believe in yourself and you can do anything.”

If you weren’t a doctor, what would you like to be doing?

I would be teaching English or biology at a small college, coach basketball, and take summers off.

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Copyright 2015 Washington University School of Medicine