Falmouth neurologist retires after 35 years
When neurologist Michael Leahy closed his practice in Falmouth at the end of 2020, he knew what he would miss most.
“I think it will be my patients and a lot of the interactions, in terms of telling me their stories, instead of telling me their troubles,” he said. “It has been a privilege to work here with patients and colleagues, past and present, over the years.”
The interaction with his colleagues at Falmouth Hospital has been a rewarding aspect of the job over the years, he said. When he first came to Cape Cod nearly 35 years ago, he said he was struck by how closely physicians in the hospital community worked with each other.
“It was a place where people were very supportive of each other, very kind to each other, and we were all very proud of what we were able to do,” he said. “The hospital remains very much community-focused today.”
Dr. Leahy grew up in Stoneham and went to medical school at University of Massachusetts, where he later completed a residency in internal medicine. He completed a three-year neurology fellowship at the Montreal Neurological Institute and then moved to Falmouth to begin practicing. For the first five or six years he was here, he worked with a group of internists, while also doing neurology consults. He moved to a more strictly neurology practice in the early 1990s.
The types of conditions he sees in patients has been largely unchanged over the span of his practice. There is, however, a big difference in the way neurological conditions are treated now, he said.
“A lot of the diagnosis in neurology is interpretation of people’s symptoms, and the test is the one Hippocrates did with his patients: When they walked in, he said, ‘How are you doing?’” he said. “You ask how they’re dealing with their problems and how they’re responding to medications we’re offering.”
One of the most dramatic changes have been around the treatment of stroke.
“We can now intervene and sometimes reverse the damage that’s gone on with the stroke, and limit the damage with rehabilitation afterwards,” Dr. Leahy said.
For the past 15 years, Falmouth Hospital (FH) has had a comprehensive stroke program of which Dr. Leahy is the medical director. But he is quick to give much of the credit to the program director, Jean Estes, RN, and the team of professionals at the hospital who treat stroke patients. The program sets guidelines for how patients presenting with stroke symptoms are treated at the hospital, including whether they are candidates for clot-busting medications to mitigate the effects of the stroke. The program has been cited multiple times by the American Heart/American Stroke Association’s Get With the Guidelines® program. FH’s stroke program has received the Association’s GoldPlus honor, for many years, which indicates it is adhering to a host of best-practice medical protocols in the treatment of stroke patients.
“What’s been very good and very special here is it can’t be done as a one-person operation,” Dr. Leahy said. “Just having a neurologist here would have in no way addressed the team that you need for stroke treatment. The emergency room doctors, the hospital doctors, the nursing staff and all of the staff at Falmouth Hospital put together a program to serve. I’m proud to have been a part of it.”
Another neurological condition that Dr. Leahy sees among his patients, particularly older patients, is dementia. Over the years, he has seen the awareness of dementias, like Alzheimer’s disease, increase, which has helped patients and their families understand it better.
“Dementia has been an issue forever - you can read about it in very old literature – and we’re still not at a point where we have a very effective medical treatment for it,” he said. “We can define it a bit better, and we can help people with some of the symptoms, but there is yet to be an effective medicine for it.”
Much of what is going on at Cape Cod Healthcare, in terms of dementia care, is around generating support for caregivers, according to Dr. Leahy. Neurologists at Neurologists of Cape Cod in Hyannis work with the Alzheimer’s Support Program, to help caregivers manage their charge’s and their own needs.
“Caregivers end up with their own physical and emotional stressors,” he said. “The ongoing care demands more than just a single (medical provider) involved.”
Dr. Leahy’s patients expressed sadness to see his years of private practice come to a close. Most were referred to the Neurologists of Cape Cod practice, but Dr. Leahy will also remain as a consulting physician at Falmouth Hospital for the near future.
As for what he will do, now that he no longer has the daily demands of private practice, Dr. Leahy has some ideas. He and his wife, MB Maughan, who has worked alongside him in his office, will be content to stay put for a while, he said.
“The way I explain it to people is that I will be somewhere in a world-famous resort area with plenty of time to enjoy what’s here; getting to enjoy the outdoors, the ocean and the hiking and fishing,” he said. “I get to see all the places I missed in the first 35 years.”