It’s time for us to enter our Huntington’s disease (HD) time machine and travel back to the year 1872. It is here that we find Dr. George Huntington sitting in his clinic’s office handling a package. He runs his thumbs along the seam to ensure its closure, turns it over in his hands, and reviews the destination: The Medical and Surgical Reporter.
“Looks good,” he says as he hands the package to the postman. “Please, have this to the outgoing mail.”
“Yes, Dr. Huntington, sir,” the postman replies with a smile. “Consider it done, sir.”
The doctor sits back in his chair, looks up at a framed picture of his grandfather hanging on the wall, and smiles.
It’s hard to imagine that the doctor who would have Huntington’s disease named after him was only 22 years old when he published his famous treatise called “On Chorea ” in 1872. At the time, the condition he documented wasn’t known as “Huntington’s disease.” In his description, he referred to it as “hereditary chorea.”
The young George Huntington was not alone in describing Huntington’s disease. Both his father and grandfather before him were physicians and worked in the same community that contained a population of people suffering from what would come to be known as Huntington’s disease. Most of the data collection and analysis that led to the paper being published in The Medical and Surgical Reporter so many years ago was completed well before the youngest Dr. Huntington was into his own practice.
If we were able to put George the third into our Huntington’s disease time machine and bring him to today, I wonder what he would think about the disease and community that bears his name? I suspect it would be something like this:
He would be proud.
I have no doubt that Dr. Huntington would feel very proud of what his father, his grandfather, and he had achieved. When you think about the state of medical knowledge and understanding back in 1872, it’s astonishing that he was able to so accurately describe HD, including the complicated genetics and hereditary nature of the condition. He was also clear in his understanding of the cognitive and mental health decline associated with Huntington’s disease as well as the tendency for the condition to make its appearance in adulthood.
I’m sure the fine doctor would be impressed with the fact that, so many decades later, his description of HD has remained consistent and mostly accurate with what we know of the disease today.
He would admire the community.
I have no doubt that Dr. Huntington would look at the HD community and admire it greatly. He would see the associations that have formed around the world and be impressed at the level of support that we provide to each other and our families.
We could show George all the fundraising and awareness activities that are taking place every month of every year by members of this Huntington’s disease community. I know I’m blown away by it, as I’m sure he would be, too.
He would be excited about the science.
Dr. Huntington would be excited about how close science is to an effective treatment for the root cause of HD. Given his history of learning about genetics from his father and grandfather, George would understand that we know so much about HD today and it will not be long before we beat Huntington’s disease.
He would be looking forward to being retired to the history books.
Finally, I believe that Dr. Huntington would be looking forward to the day when we can all happily forget his name and retire it to the history books. He would be happy to see all the HD associations that host his surname close their doors because there is no longer a need for them.
That will be the day we cure this disease. You. Me. Us.
What do you think Dr. Huntington would say if we brought him to the future? Please share in the comments below.
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