"It's incredible how many advances we have seen in diagnostics," says Dr. Tulio Bertorini, a neurologist with Wesley Clinic. "When I was an intern in the late 1960s, we didn't even have CT scans readily available. That was a revolution. And then the MRI came about, allowing us to look inside the brain, and even look at the circulation. Before, we couldn't really diagnose. We might look and say 'Maybe' but now we can do an MRI and say, you have multiple sclerosis, a stroke, a tumor."
Born in Peru, Bertorini earned his medical degree at the San Marcos University School of Medicine in Lima. He served as a resident at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., and his distinguished career includes stints with the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and the National Institutes of Health. He came to Memphis in 1977 and soon after joined the staff at Wesley -- closely affiliated with Methodist Hospital.
"Coming to Memphis gave me the opportunity to create a neuromuscular center, have a private practice, do research, and also teach -- altogether, to work closely with the university here and see patients at the same time."
His special interest is neuromuscular disorders -- muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig's disease, multiple sclerosis, and other ailments, many of them crippling if not fatal. "Many of those we don't have a cure for yet," he says, "but we are working very hard towards that."
Bertorini is pleased by the progress being made in his field. "When I was in training, all we did was diagnose and treat only a few diseases. Now we can do a lot more for our patients than before, with the management of many diseases, such as epilepsy and Parkinson's. New drugs are coming out all the time, and it's amazing the advances we have made in genetics -- finding a gene that causes a disease, and that can lead to treatment."
The study of genetics is an increasingly complicated issue. "We provide genetic counseling in diseases that are hereditary," he explains. "If you have a very strong family history for a certain disease, you have to examine it. I don't want to get into that gray area of religion and birth control, but you have to discuss, should that person continue to have children?"
Bertorini says it is very rewarding to see people with diseases such as multiple sclerosis now live longer and more fulfilling lives. "And we have made progress with the simple management of migraine headaches," he says. "The relationship of migraines with other factors, and the treatment of migraine attacks. It might be a mundane disease, but it is very common."
Even so, there are still advances to be made. Memphis is the center of the "stroke belt" -- due to diet and genetics, strokes are more prevalent here than in other parts of the country. In fact, hypertension and strokes are a leading cause of death in the African-American community. "When a patient has a massive stroke, our goal is to treat it immediately," he says. "And that window of helping versus harming the patient can be very narrow." The key to stroke management is prevention -- watching your diet, monitoring your cholesterol, and keeping your blood pressure under control.
Neurology is a complicated and critically important specialty. "It involves your movements, your thinking, your speech, your feeling," says Bertorini. "Everything you do comes from the brain."