TUCSON, Ariz. - Leon I. Charash, M.D., a pediatric neurologist who was an early advocate for children with neuromuscular diseases, a volunteer leader of the Muscular Dystrophy Association for more than 50 years and former New York City Department of Health Chief of Orthopedics, died Wednesday night in Plainview, N.Y. He was 84.
Charash became director of one of the MDA clinics in New York City in 1958. He went on to direct the growth of MDA hospital-affiliated clinics across the country of which there are now approximately 200.
He served as chairman of the MDA’s Medical Advisory Committee from 1971 to 2008. His role as chairman was pivotal in expanding MDA’s research from basic science to gene therapy to clinical trials. MDA funded and initiated the first gene therapy clinical trial in a muscle disease in September 1999.
"Dr. Leon Charash was one of the very early, leading national physician-scientists and experts in the field of the muscular dystrophies,” said R. Rodney Howell, M.D., and Chairman of the MDA Board of Directors. “So many aspects of Muscular Dystrophy Association programs reflect his leadership and creativity. His strong commitment to research continues to help improve the lives of those living with neuromuscular diseases. We mourn the loss of a very dear friend, but we celebrate his many accomplishments."
Because Charash worked with children, he knew firsthand the challenges children with neuromuscular diseases face. As chief of the Division of Orthopedics and Cerebral Palsy of the New York City Department of Health in the late 1950s, he worked with MDA to ensure that children who used wheelchairs could attend New York City public schools.
“Leon Charash was a stalwart friend to all those served by MDA,” said Gerald C. Weinberg, MDA President & CEO. “He helped build our medical program with an impressive network of clinics offering care from leaders in the neuromuscular disease field. He was a brilliant man, and his legacy will live on.”
Charash was a member of MDA’s Board of Directors from 1994 to 2009. Before that he served as a corporate member of the Association beginning in 1985.
He is survived by his wife Phyllis, four children — Barbi, Bruce, Michael and Bill — and eight grandchildren.
Charash was a graduate of Cornell University in 1950. In addition to his private practice, Charash was an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at Cornell, as well as adjunct professor of speech and hearing at Adelphi University. He also served as attending physician and consultant in pediatric neurology at several New York hospitals.
MDA is the nonprofit health agency dedicated to curing muscular dystrophy, ALS and related diseases by funding worldwide research. The Association also provides comprehensive health care and support services, advocacy and education. The Association is the first nonprofit to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Medical Association “for significant and lasting contributions to the health and welfare of humanity.”