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Headshot photo George Kraft

After 51 years with the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Professor Emeritus George Kraft, MD, MS, fully retired December 31.  The department hosted a virtual retirement event to honor Dr. Kraft’s outstanding legacy in MS patient care, research, and training on December 10.

“It has been my privilege to work with Dr. Kraft for more than 30 years,” said Department Chair Peter Esselman, MD. “He has many notable achievements, including the formation of the UW Medicine MS Center. He has advanced research in multiple sclerosis, treated patients, and mentored a new generation of researchers and physicians.”

Professor Kurt Johnson, PhD, likens him to a Renaissance man because he is a physiatrist adept in neurology and pharmacology. “He was one of the key players in transforming the focus on multiple sclerosis from a disease of ‘mobility impairment’ to a focus on the whole person,” Johnson said.

“When George first began his MS research,” said Professor Dawn Ehde, PhD, “the field viewed MS as primarily a disease of ambulation. George, however, recognized that people with MS were affected by a range of persistent physical, cognitive, and emotional symptoms. This vision and his research, including his groundbreaking work identifying fatigue as the most common symptom of MS and his establishment of the MS Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, changed the direction of MS research for the better.”

In1978, Dr. Kraft led the UW team to compete for the national Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Multiple Sclerosis (RRTC-MS), bringing together interdisciplinary researchers focusing on psychological functioning, well-being, employment, and measurement of outcomes. The RRTC-MS received renewed funding twice, and under Dr. Kraft’s leadership, said Dr. Johnson, “in addition to research, we made a variety of widely disseminated training programs on video and conducted State of the Science conferences, as well.”

Professor Kevin Alschuler, PhD, elaborated, “At the time our clinic opened, UW was one of only four clinics of its type in the country. Today, that model of care is the gold standard for MS care and is the model upon which MS comprehensive care centers are built. We are proud that our UW Medicine Multiple Sclerosis Center continues today in Dr. Kraft’s legacy, providing comprehensive multidisciplinary care for people with MS across the Northwest United States.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society Consultant Nicholas LaRocca, PhD, met Dr. Kraft in 1979 while he was working at the MS comprehensive care center at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “Our center and George’s were truly a match made in heaven,” he said. “While most neurologists were telling their MS patients to ‘go home and learn to live with it,’ George had the revolutionary idea that MS affects every facet of a person’s life and so MS care needs to be comprehensive and personalized. He also had the revolutionary idea that rehabilitation research was necessary to address the myriad effects of MS. The impact of this paradigm shift has been phenomenal, and the field has never looked back.”

“It is hard to fully comprehend what a trailblazer Dr. Kraft has been from today’s perspective,” said Annette Wundes, MD (Associate Professor and Program Director, Multiple Sclerosis Fellowship). “He taught providers, including in PMR(!), that they can and how they can improve, restore, or maintain function and well-being in people living with MS. This led to creation of the UW MS Fellowship Program, which continues as a successful program to this date. Dr. Kraft uniquely integrated multidisciplinary care from both rehabilitation medicine and neurology into the MS Fellowship Program, which was unmatched by any other program around the country at that time. Over the years, a whole generation of trainees has benefited from his expertise in electrodiagnostic and neurorehabilitation. Physicians lucky enough to have had him as teacher and mentor will carry his values forward in their work in patient care, research, and medical education.”

Along with discovery of fatigue as the most common symptom of MS, Dr. Kraft’s research achievements include stem cell transplant treatment for MS, and his clinical research has focused on developing physiological methods to identify different types of MS. He has more than 300 publications to his name and, in his dedication to disseminating his MS research findings and teaching, even hosted a UWTV series.

Dr. Kraft completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Harvard University and his MD (1963) and MS (1967) from The Ohio State University (OSU). He completed his residencies in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of California Hospital (1964-1965) and at OSU (1966-1967), where he was Chief Resident.

Although Dr. Kraft retired from his regular academic appointment to become Professor Emeritus in 2012, he continued in an active role for eight years to further his work and draw his final studies to a close.

He’s served nearly 40 years on the Medical Advisory Board of the National MS Society.

“His strong focus on interdisciplinary care has been exemplary and earned him enormous respect from his colleagues, trainees, and patients,” added Dr. Johnson.

In 2005, he became the first person to hold the Nancy and Buster Alvord Endowed Professorship in Multiple Sclerosis. Among his many other awards are Distinguished Researcher, American Association of Electrodiagnostic Medicine (1996); Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine (1997); Distinguished Clinician Award, American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (1998); America’s Top Doctors, Castle Connolly Medical, Ltd. (2001); and Distinguished Academician Award, Association of Academic Physiatrists (2002). In 2002, he received the Frank Krusen Award from the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and Commendation for Special Advisory Committee to the Veterans Health Administration on Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence.

During his retirement celebration, many colleagues described their admiration and gratitude for the man whose friendship and mentorship have profoundly impacted them. As Professor Chuck Bombardier, PhD, expressed, “George, I am so grateful for your passion, vision, and leadership in multiple sclerosis. You were the spark that brought us all together to win the RRTC grants and really usher in a whole new era of excellence in multidisciplinary clinical care and research. You have left quite a legacy here and deserve to have a lot of pride in what you created. Many thanks for how you inspired us all to do more than we had imagined we could. Best wishes for a long, healthy, and productive retirement.”

Please see the Highlight Reel made for Dr. Kraft and shared at the retirement celebration.