One of the main reasons Dr. Vincent Gibbons went into pediatric neurology instead of adult neurology is pretty simple.
“Kids are more fun,” said Gibbons, who has been at the medical center for the past six months. “They’re more resilient, and kids solve many of their own problems by themselves. I also think kids tend to be more optimistic, or at least they don’t take their own physical limitations as seriously and disastrously as adults do.”
As head of the new division of pediatric neurology, Gibbons oversees its clinical, educational and research missions.
“We are excited to have Dr. Gibbons on board when there is a nationwide shortage of pediatric neurologists,” said Dr. Michael Gruenthal, chairman of the department of neurology. “His extensive training and experience in treating a wide range of pediatric neurological disorders will provide more specialized care for the children in our region and their families.”
Gibbons came to Albany Med after having served as associate clinical professor of pediatrics and neurology at the University of California School of Medicine in San Francisco.
Gibbons treats a variety of neurological disorders, including epilepsy, in which he has a special interest. “It’s probably the single most common problem that kids come to us for,” he said.
Gibbons said he hopes to take more of a multidisciplinary approach to treating the disease.
“I need neuroradiologists,” he said. “I need physical therapists, neuropsychologists and dietitians in order to have a really effective child neurology practice.”
One of Gibbons’ goals is to start children with epilepsy on a ketogenic diet — a high-fat, adequate- protein, low-carbohydrate diet developed in the 1920s.
While doctors don’t know how the diet works, researchers at John Hopkins University in Baltimore studied 150 children with epilepsy. After a year on the ketogenic diet, half of children had 50 percent fewer seizures. One fourth of the children reduced their seizures by 90 percent. After a few years on the diet, many of these children no longer needed medications at all.
“It’s a pretty intense diet and requires some dietitian input and some specialized teamwork,” said Gibbons, a graduate of Harvard, who received his medical degree from Georgetown University School of Medicine. “Right now, there’s a program in Rochester and Boston, but there’s no need to have people in the Capital Region go that far.”
Child neurologists also treat children who get some types of headaches, and they help make developmental assessments for children who may be developmentally delayed in school.
Gibbons is also concerned about what he perceives to be a disparity of care between families that can afford comprehensive health care and those who can’t.
“I think we have to stop and insist on a government that recognizes that everybody benefits by excellent health care that is provided to everybody,” said Gibbons. “My sense is that they do it very much better in the European countries than we do it here.”
Recalling a role model
Gibbons said one of the things that influenced his decision to become a pediatric neurologist was his relationship with his own pediatrician when he was growing up.
“It was back in the 1950s, and he had his practice set up in his house,” Gibbons recalled. “He also made house calls. He had this enormous black leather bag, and I remember when I had scarlet fever I was so sick I thought I’d die, and he came and took care of me. He was an amazing man.”
Gibbons completed a fellowship in pediatric neurology at George Washington University Medical Center and fellowships in epilepsy and neurophysiology at Children’s Hospital in Boston in 1982.
“I think it’s fair to say that all of medicine depends on teamwork a lot more than it used to,” he said. “Thirty, 40 years ago, you saw a doctor and the doctor probably took care of everything. But that’s not the case anymore. There is a need for good communication and teamwork.”
Gibbons said split or divided families have also had an impact on health care. “Mothers used to get support, information and education from her extended family in a way that doesn’t happen anymore. So that pediatric offices and child neurologists end up doing a lot of education,” he said.
Gibbons said he believes there is a shortage of pediatric neurologists because the exams have a reputation as being extremely difficult.
“In fact, they are,” he said. “But it’s also a little less financially rewarding as some other specialities.
Still, Gibbons wouldn’t work in any other specialty.
“I love working in a field where I know I will only be able to scratch the surface,” he said. “I think it’s fascinating.”