Children's Establishes First Pediatric Neuromuscular Programs in Chicago

In spring 2010, Nancy Kuntz, MD, joined Lurie Children's as Medical Director of the Mazza Foundation Neuromuscular Program. In this role, she will spearhead the development of the first pediatric neuromuscular program in Chicago. She was most recently on the neurology faculty at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and served as a consultant at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. 

Neuromuscular disorders affect the muscles or nerves that control voluntary muscles, such as those in the arms and legs. These disorders can have an effect on the child’s walking, crawling, breathing, swallowing and head and neck control. They are often chronic conditions that start in childhood and persist into the patient’s adult life. 

Before Dr. Kuntz’s arrival at the hospital, families of children with the most medically-challenging neuromuscular conditions had to seek care at institutions outside the state of Illinois. 

"The greater Chicago area has urgently needed a pediatric neuromuscular disorders program that offers specialized care for children with these disorders and advances research to find new therapies," says Leon Epstein, MD, head of the Division of Neurology.

Gift from Mazza Foundation Enables Recruitment

The Mazza Foundation’s generous gift of $1.25 million to the Heroes for Life campaign helped facilitate the recruitment of Dr. Kuntz, a national expert, as well as the purchase of state-of-the-art technology. 

"This evolving field requires very modern and sophisticated equipment in order to be effective and creative about identifying and clarifying the types of disorders that we’ve never understood before," says Dr. Kuntz. 

The new program will employ the clinical strengths of the Division of Neurology to offer an advanced level of care for children suffering from muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy and other neuromuscular disorders. Under Dr. Kuntz’s leadership, the program will also train future specialists, provide state-of-the-art diagnostic and treatment resources and advance cutting-edge research in this emerging field. 

"I’m so incredibly grateful for and humbled by the Mazza Foundation’s generosity. Their investment will help establish a base of care and research in Chicago that will make all the difference in the world for these children," Dr. Kuntz says. 

Lurie Children’s proximity to Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine,Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Prentice Women’s Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago will bring together an unprecedented level of expertise, offering new opportunities for collaboration not only in clinical care, but also in research and education. 

"These partnerships with adult specialists will help ensure these children have excellent care throughout childhood and adolescence, and a seamless transition into adult care." She adds, " Lurie Children’s commitment to its patients and the opportunity to push the envelope and really challenge where we stand will help establish the hospital as a national leader in this field." 

Dr. Kuntz is also an associate professor of pediatrics at the Feinberg School. The hospital was recently designated as a clinical trial research site of the Cooperative International Research Group, which is a multicenter research consortium with 21 sites in 10 countries. This distinction will offer patients access to the most innovative therapies being tested nationally. 

The Mazza Foundation has been committed to improving the lives of Chicagoans for more than 50 years. It provides vital funding for programs in healthcare, social services and education, as well as for cultural and religious organizations. "We are excited to partner with Children’s to develop and grow this important program," says Nick Lavezzorio, a director of the Mazza Foundation. "We hope our gift grows into something that will provide hope for a lot of children and families."

This article first appeared in the spring 2010 issue of Heroes magazine. ​​