Case Western student studies medical records, discovers mom was misdiagnosed 20 years ago

CLEVELAND - Turner Montgomery fully admits that he is a “mama’s boy.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Turner said, laughing.

So it makes sense that the 22-year-old is dedicating his career to help her.

“I chose the medical field because of my mom and because of the disease I grew up with her having,” Turner explained.

Twenty-two years ago, shortly after Turner was born, his mom Debbie was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called dermatomyositis, a rare disease marked by muscle weakness. She lost weight and muscle mass. But it was an illness she didn’t openly share with her three children.

“I don’t talk about it very much even to this day,” Debbie said.  

In fact, Turner said he didn’t realize his mother was ill until he was a teenager.

“For 15 years of my life, I had no idea that she had a disease that binds most people to a wheelchair by the time they are 40 years old,” he said.

That’s when Turner realized he wanted to help.

Turner, 22, is now a biomedical engineering student at Case Western Reserve University.

Using the tools at his fingertips, and experts from Case and Johns Hopkins, Turner studied his mom’s medical records and discovered that she had been misdiagnosed more than two decades ago.

“He is the type who will never stop searching for answers,” Debbie said.

And, for solutions.

After doctors re-diagnosed Debbie with a type of muscular dystrophy, which is treated primarily through physical therapy, Turner created a device to help his mom heal. 

It is an EMG machine that measures the voltage sent from Debbie’s brain to her muscles, calculating her improvement and strength. There is no real cure for her disease, Turner explained, and the muscle mass that was lost cannot be regained, but she can build up her strength through physical therapy.

Turner was awarded a grant from CWRU’s think[box] and the Codrington Foundation to help him with his project. He hopes to eventually develop the device to help others with physical therapy.

The think[box] where Turner developed his idea and the device is one of the world’s largest university-based innovation centers. Open since 2015, it will welcome its 250,000th visitor next week. The innovation center is open to the public.

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