A national organization that advocates for Tourette syndrome patients will honor Dr. Ruth Dowling Bruun, M.D., a resident of Remsenburg, later this week for her decades of work researching the neurological disease and treating its victims.
At its annual conference in Arlington, Virginia, on Friday, the nonprofit Tourette Syndrome Association will present Dr. Bruun with the Wendy Anne Ochsman Award for Distinguished Achievement and Advancement of Tourette Syndrome Medical Treatment and Science.
“She’s an amazing human being and wonderful doctor,” said Judit Ungar, the president of the association. “She was one of the first women physicians who was interested in Tourette syndrome.”
Dr. Bruun, a psychiatrist who is based in Riverhead, has been practicing since 1973, and developed an interest in Tourette syndrome at the very start of her career.
“I just thought it was fascinating,” Dr. Bruun said this week. “In those days, we didn’t have any idea really what the cause was, but the people I was working with firmly believed—and I did too—that it was not psychiatric in nature, that it was neurological. So the early research was devoted to proving that it was really a neurological condition, and now that’s long since been accepted.”
Tourette syndrome is a brain disorder that causes people to make involuntary sounds or motions, called tics, which can include blinking, snorting or arm movements. Only in the most severe cases do patients shout obscenities, although that is the most well-known symptom, Dr. Bruun said.
In the early years, she said, Tourette sufferers were often misdiagnosed with allergies, eye problems and other ailments.
“These patients have gone from doctor to doctor and been told that they were schizophrenic and all sorts of diagnoses,” Dr. Bruun said, “which they clearly weren’t.”
Only the most severe cases, she said, were diagnosed and treated.
Dr. Bruun played her part in remedying the situation, authoring a long list of studies and journal articles over the years. She wrote one book, “The Human Body,” and co-authored or contributed to more than a dozen others. She also built up a clinical practice, first in New York City and then in Riverhead, where she continues to treat patients from across Long Island and beyond.
A graduate of Harvard University and Cornell University Medical College, Dr. Bruun has also held a number of leadership positions. From 2000 to 2005, she served as executive director of Family Counselling Services, a Westhampton Beach nonprofit that provides mental health services to people on the East End. She has also played various roles at the Tourette Syndrome Association, including serving as chairwoman of its medical committee.
Over the years, Tourette patients from all over the world have flown to New York to be treated by Dr. Bruun, Ms. Ungar said.
“She was not just a good clinician,” she said, “but a wonderful human being.”