Establishing a Medical Foundation: Page 1

When I started to do well in business, I established a small foundation, the Dreyfus Charitable Foundation, for the purpose of giving money to what seemed good causes. It was my hope to be generally helpful, and the foundation gave money to numerous organizations and contributed equally to Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish charities. The responsibility of how to spend the money was left to these organizations.

But now I wanted to take over the responsibility of spending this money—I felt it should be spent on PHT research. PHT would need all the money I had been contributing and more, so I had to discontinue my usual contributions. And I could do this with a clear conscience—if the work on PHT was successful there would be many sources of charitable inquiry that would be helped by it. Consistent with this thinking, in 1965 the Dreyfus Charitable Foundation was changed to the Dreyfus Medical Foundation.

A medical foundation needs a medical director—but such a person can be difficult to obtain. Good physicians are fully occupied with their own matters and not easily sidetracked by what might seem a will-o’-the-wisp. After several months of search, Dr. Suckling introduced me to Dr. William J. Turner, a neuropsychiatrist at Central Islip Hospital on Long Island.

At the first meeting with Dr. Turner I got a fine impression of him, and it’s never changed. He said he had been anxious to meet with me because he had seen a number of persons, with disorders other than epilepsy, respond to Dilantin. We had several long discussions. After thinking about it for a few weeks Dr. Turner decided to join the Foundation as Medical Director.

At that time I thought that the Foundation would be able to achieve its goals within two or three years. It seemed unwise for Dr. Turner to break his connections with Central Islip Hospital and move to New York City, so he joined us as Director on a part-time basis. Bill took a small office near his home in Huntington, Long Island, hired a secretary and medical assistant, and we were in business. (Jumping ahead a few years—when it became apparent that my timetable was optimistic, I was fortunate in being able to persuade Dr. Samuel Bogoch, a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine and chairman of the International Institute for the Brain Sciences, to join the Foundation on a full-time basis as General Director; Dr. Turner continued as Director.)

At the outset, Dr. Turner and I had the objective of proving—or disproving—that PHT was more than an anticonvulsant. We were as open to negative possibilities as to positive ones. I had my ideas as to what we would find: but if they were wrong, I didn’t want to spend my time trying to prove something that wasn’t so—there are pleasanter ways of making a fool of oneself.

Our plan was simple. The Foundation would sponsor a few studies at medical institutions. My guess was that this might take $150,000 to $200,000 a year for the next two or three years. If these studies were successful, the facts about PHT would then be in the hands of professionals. Once this happened I thought the word would spread like wildfire throughout the medical profession, and the job would be done. If I had been told, then, that in the next fifteen years the Foundation was going to spend over $15 million—by 1997, it was over $80 million—(and the job not completed), I wouldn’t have believed it. One reason is that $15 million was three times as much money as I had at that time.

Talking about money in connection with this work is awkward for me. I don’t want to sound like I think I’m a Boy Scout. But there is a point to be made here. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to have the money, I wouldn’t have gotten to first base.

When I think back to my first job, at $15 a week, I realize what an implausible person I was to have a lot of money. Implausible is too weak a word. I’ll tell how it happened. If you believe in fate, or whatever, you’re entitled to believe the money was given to me to spend on PHT.

The newly established Dreyfus Medical Foundation funded its first study in 1966—with hope, and $57,000. It was a dud. It could be called a waste of time and money. But that wouldn’t be quite right—it was part of education. I was learning how difficult it was to develop anyone’s interest in PHT. As to the study, I’ll make it brief. And I’ll skip names. As explained earlier, complaining is not one of the purposes of this site. Dr. Turner introduced me to members of the staff of a large hospital in the metropolitan area. They said they were interested in PHT and had a good patient population for conducting a study. I explained what had happened in the previous study—I didn’t want to make that sort of mistake again—and said I’d like to be present in the early stages of the work. My experience, unsophisticated as it was, might be useful. They agreed to this and asked for $57,000 for the study.

I’d been given the impression that the study would start without delay, but it wasn’t for several months that I was invited to attend the first interview with patients, conducted by Dr. Blank.

Four patients were interviewed in my presence. To my dismay, I was not allowed to say a word to these patients, although I sat just a few feet from them. If I wanted to ask a question, I had to write it on a slip of paper and hand it to Dr. Blank. Using “local mail” didn’t improve my ability to communicate with these patients. One case is worth mentioning, a man who said he jackknifed in bed at night. Dr. Blank didn’t ask for particulars, but I did—by note—and learned that several times each night, before he fell asleep, the patient’s legs would jerk up almost to his head. I was surprised that PHT had not already been tried with him—these involuntary movements seemed a form of convulsion. After the session I expressed the opinion to Dr. Blank that three of the four patients were good candidates for PHT. I was never told whether they were given it—there was an air of mystery about everything—but I don’t think they were.

The upshot of this study was that, two years later, the physician in charge of the study made the vapid statement at a medical meeting that “more work was needed in this field.” Well, you couldn’t argue with that. It’s hard to realize how frustrating this was. Here I was, eager to give money for studies on an established medicine, and I couldn’t find the right people to give it to.

One fine day, in 1966, Dr. Turner asked me if I’d like to participate in conducting a study. I told him I’d like to, but I didn’t know it was possible. Bill said he thought it could be arranged. A few weeks later Bill made arrangements through a friend of his, Dr. Oscar Resnick of the Worcester Foundation, for that foundation and ours to conduct a joint study at the Worcester County Jail.

Bill and I visited Dr. Resnick at his home in Worcester, Massachusetts, the following Sunday. On both sides of a nice lunch we discussed the proposed study. Until Bill had brought up the subject, I’d never thought about a study in a prison. After all a prison is not a hospital and doesn’t necessarily have sick people. But now that I thought about it, it seemed that nervous conditions could be a contributing cause in many criminal acts, particularly those of anger and violence. I discussed this with Dr. Resnick, who had done many studies at this jail. He agreed and said he thought we’d find an ample number of people who had problems with their nerves.

When we discussed how the interview with the prisoners should be conducted, Oscar won a lifelong friendship with me when he said, “Look, Jack, you know what you’re looking for. It’ll be a lot easier if you ask the questions. I’ll chime in when I think it’s necessary.” This jail study was to be an unusual experience for me—in some ways the most fruitful of my life.

Next Section: Eleven Angry Men