William L. Young, MD
August 6, 1954, to August 1, 2013
Whatever the circumstances that led the dedicated young pianist Bill Young to the Indiana University School of Medicine instead of the (now-named) Jacobs School of Music, the many beneficiaries of his decision remain grateful for the time we had with this huge figure in cerebrovascular research and neuroscience. His career is testimonial that giants occur even in our own time.
His medical internship at Yale’s Bridgeport Hospital was followed by Anesthesia residency at New York University’s Bellevue Hospital and then by the first of his many appointments at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. During his 16 years at Columbia, his meteoric rise saw him pass from Assistant to Tenured Associate Professor in Anesthesia and finally Professor, with joint appointments in Neurological Surgery and Radiology. In 2000, he decamped to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) as Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Anesthesia and Perioperative Care and founded the Center for Cerebrovascular Research. The following year he was awarded the James P. Livingston Endowed Chair and in 2009 was named Vice Chair for Research. During the course of his remarkable career, the only mistake any of his many admirers can cite was his comment that he took the wrong subway uptown to Columbia on his first day.
He lived life to the fullest. As an anesthesiologist he early impressed Ed Miller, his first Chair, with his readiness to take on the most difficult cases while finding time for a growing career in cerebrovascular research—focusing on the plumbing, not the wiring, as he so often liked to say. His interest in cerebral blood flow led to initial links with the late Isaac Prohovnic in disorders associated with carotid stenosis and occlusion. Providing anesthesia for B.M. Stein’s neurosurgical procedures on brain arteriovenous malformations (AVM), he soon became a founding member of the multidepartmental AVM Study Group headed by Dr Stein that included J.P. Mohr, J. Pile-Spellman, S. Isaacson, R.A. Solomon, E. S. Connolly, R.M. Lazar, R.S. Marshall, M.F. Berman, E.J. Heyer, S. Joshi, and a steady stream of visiting fellows, many now in major positions worldwide. This effort involved his indispensable collaborators, the late Steven Marshall and Noleen Ostapkovich, RN. During these years, he was coauthor or co-principal investigator of 125 refereed articles and 4 National Institute of Neurological Dis orders and Stroke (NINDS) grants. Notable among his early publications was the challenge to the cerebral steal hypothesis in AVMs, a direct result of his regional cerebral blood flow measurements during neurosurgical procedures. Remarkably enough, he found time for another life: as a jazz pianist playing in clubs throughout the city. His wife Chantal, who met him in this setting, was initially unaware of any other career activities.
Once ensconced at UCSF, he not only continued his career as a clinical neuroanesthesiologist, but also rapidly organized an internationally famous laboratory at the Center for Cerebrovascular Research consisting of both basic and clinical science researchers focused on brain AVM and other cerebrovascular diseases. This group has generated 246 refereed publications and 7 NINDS/National Institutes of Health grants spanning clinical studies from human genetics to molecular biology and animal models, with a focus on mechanistic exploration and identification of novel therapeutic targets for brain AVM, stroke, and other cerebrovascular diseases. Some of his key associates included Drs H. Kim, H. Su, G-Y Yang, L. Pawlikowska, W. Smith, N. Ko, V. Halbach, R. Higashida, C. Dowd, and M.T. Lawton. During the years at UCSF, his faculty appointment in Anesthesia was supplemented by those in Neurological Surgery, Neurology, the UCSF Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program, the UCSF/University of California Berkeley Bioengineering Graduate Program, and the UCSF Institute of Molecular Medicine.
More recently, his vision and research expanded beyond brain AVMs to include other rare vascular malformations, culminating in his founding and leadership of the Brain Vascular Malformation Consortium in 2009, as part of the National Institutes of Health Rare Disease Clinical Research Network funded by NINDS and the Office of Rare Diseases. The Brain Vascular Malformation Consortium brought together investigators and patient advocacy groups working on 3 different cerebrovascular syndromes, including familial cerebral cavernous malformations, Sturge–Weber syndrome, and hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia.
Bill had yet another role—one hugely time-consuming, crucial to peer review, and well known to those involved—in the National Institutes of Health grant review process. Starting in 1997, he was an ad hoc member of the Neuro A Study Section for NINDS, in 2009 chair of a Special Review Panel, member of the NINDS GO grants panel, chair of the NINDS Ischemic Stroke Genetics Consortium, NSD-A Neurological Sciences and Disorders, Acute Neural Injury and Epilepsy, Clinical Cardiovascular Sciences, Stroke Progress Groups, even the Hemorrhage Section NBIB Technology. He was also a member of the editorial boards for Stroke, BMC Neurology, and Anesthesiology (editor of the latter since 2009). In 2009, he was also recognized by the American Society of Anesthesiologists with the Excellence in Research Award. All this he accomplished while still playing jazz piano regularly at clubs throughout San Francisco and Marin County.
His friends and colleagues were dumbfounded on learning of his illness in early 2013. Many did not know until the end. He fought the disease silently and valiantly all the while continuing efforts to maintain his research activities, but by August he succumbed. He leaves behind a large trail of mentees, colleagues, and friends, all of whom he influenced and inspired in both small and large ways. Like the birds and small animals that become dependent on the kindness of the generous landowner, his passing leaves us all with the same question: what do we do now?
- Received October 10, 2013.
- Accepted October 10, 2013.
- © 2013 American Heart Association, Inc.