Elizabeth O’Hearn, MD, 53
Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" O'Hearn, who grew up in Wilton, died on Thursday, November 15th, in Baltimore, Maryland where she was known as a dedicated and compassionate clinician, teacher and researcher in the Departments of Neurology and Neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Liz was born on February 9th, 1959 in Manhattan to William J. O'Hearn, Jr. and Elizabeth Ann O'Hearn, who moved to Wilton that same year. Liz attended the Wilton public schools where she excelled as an academic and athlete and where she became a notorious overachiever. During her senior year at Wilton High School, Liz was student body President, editor of the school paper, Homecoming Queen, a member of the Track Team, and Co-Captain of the 1976 Field Hockey Team, which won the State Championship in its division that year. Liz was also a gifted musician, an AFS student who spent her junior summer living with an Austrian family, was a National Honor Society Student and received both the DAR Good Citizenship and the Yale Book awards.
Liz went on to attend Yale University, her father's alma mater, where she played both rugby and lacrosse, two sports that had not yet been made available to women at Wilton High School. While at Yale, Liz sang with, and later became the conductor of the Yale Slavic Chorus. Not content with only one major field of study, Liz graduated from Yale in 1981, magna cum laude, with degrees in Biology, Philosophy and Russian and Eastern Studies.
Liz went on to attend the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, from which she graduated in 1985. She then went on to complete not one, but two medical internships, one at Yale and the other at Johns Hopkins, in Neurology and Internal Medicine, and she later became Board Certified in each area of practice.
Liz joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1997, as an assistant professor of neurology and neuroscience and dedicated her career to helping others. She chose to investigate a series of diseases, known as ataxias, which have baffled neuroscientists for decades. Her work involved studying patients suffering from various speech and movement disorders, such as Parkinson's disease. One of her many legacies was her groundbreaking work on the ataxia known as SCA-12, where she played a valuable role in identifying and characterizing the genetic defect associated with it.
Liz was known as a warm and compassionate practitioner who was loved by her patients. Dr. Justin McArthur, Director of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Neurology department, recently said, "For Liz, it was very natural to be with a patient in the morning and to be looking through a microscope in the afternoon," noting such schedules are "dwindling" among academics at major institutions. "To be brilliant as she was at both ... it's like playing concert-level piano and also being a great runner."
During Liz's career, she collaborated on more than 15 research publications with her academic and personal partner, Dr. Mark E. Molliver, with whom she shared a home in Baltimore. Mark, who passed away in May of this year, was a Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience and Neurology, also at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Liz's sudden passing is a great loss to her family and friends. The family has issued the following statement: "If the measure of a person's life is the good she has done for others, Liz lived a full and rich life. We will miss her."
While Liz's father, William "Bill" O'Hearn, Jr., passed away at the age of 93 this past August, Liz is survived by her mother, Elizabeth "Betty" O'Hearn of Tucson, AZ, and her five siblings, William J. O'Hearn, III of Beijing, China; Robert O'Hearn of Cave Creek, AZ; Deirdre O'Hearn Eckerstrom of New York, NY; Michael O'Hearn of Tucson, AZ; Tierney O'Hearn of Wilton, and many nieces and nephews.
Those wishing to do so are encouraged to make a contribution in Liz's honor to the Johns Hopkins University Department of Neurology Research Fund. A memorial service is currently being planned at Hopkins, the details of which are not yet available, and a private service will be held for the family in December.