Pictured above: Dr. Abraham Lieberman (right) with Muhammad Ali and Jimmy Walker, founder, president and CEO of Celebrity Fight Night, in 1999. Photo courtesy Barrow Neurological Institute
Dr. Abraham Lieberman will retire at the end of December after more than 20 years at Barrow Neurological Institute. He has been an internationally recognized leader in the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson’s disease and a physician for more than 50 years.
In honor of his upcoming retirement, Barrow will name the Parkinson’s research facility the Lieberman Parkinson’s Research Center at the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. When asked about the naming, Dr. Lieberman says, “It’s very humbling.”
He will miss several things when he retires, but foremost his patients. “When people come to see you for five to 10 years, they become part of your life, and you become part of theirs,” he says. “I’ll miss some of the new advances that are coming out that will be helping people, and I’ll miss my colleagues. There are some tremendous people here at BNI.”
Dr. Lieberman had polio when he was 6 and has developed post-polio syndrome. He says that it has been slowly evolving for the past 18 years and has reached the point where it limits his ability to get around. “If you’re going to do something good for people, you have to be much more active than I can be,” he admits.
He doesn’t have much planned yet for his retirement other than enjoying time with his wife, Ina, who is a retired anesthesiologist, and his 10 grandchildren – and reading. “I’m a big history reader, and I’ve never read Churchill’s four-volume A History of the English-Speaking Peoples – there are a lot of books that I want to read.”
On passing the torch, he says, “Once you leave, you’ve got to let the younger people take over.”
Those are big shoes to fill. The Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center is a world leader in Deep Brain Stimulation surgery and offers some of the best physical, occupational and speech-language therapy.
An outreach program gives doctors the ability to use “telemedicine,” a mix of telecommunications technology to reach homebound patients or those who are physically unable to get to the center.
These programs are generously funded by individual donors and the Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation. Celebrity Fight Night is one of their biggest fundraising events of the year.
Muhammad Ali was a big presence at this fundraiser for many years and a patient of Dr. Lieberman’s for more than 30 years.
Dr. Lieberman would go to Lonnie and Muhammad Ali’s home every other week to check in on Muhammad, and they would watch movies together. “He loved to watch Westerns, but more than anything else he loved to watch Muhammad Ali,” jokes Dr. Lieberman.
They would watch Ali’s previous boxing matches and then one day they watched the movie, “The Great White Hope” about Jack Jefferson, a lightly fictionalized version of Jack Johnson who, in 1908, knocked out Tommy Burns of Canada to become the first black heavyweight champion of the world.
“I was watching the movie with Muhammad and when the fight scene came on you could see Muhammad saying he wouldn’t do this, he’d do that, so it was really inside information from him on boxing,” says Dr. Lieberman.
“Muhammad Ali was a very special person, a very nice person,” says Dr. Lieberman. “He was a great man. Do I miss Muhammad? Yes.”
Dr. Lieberman still sees Lonnie as she is very involved in Parkinson’s charities. She gives speeches and travels, preserving the legacy of her late husband.
The doctor knows he is leaving things in good hands with the excellent physicians and staff at Barrow. He is excited that they will be bringing on more researchers. “We need to do more basic research in Parkinson’s disease because I think that’s where cures are going to come from.”
He says that at least once a year he is asked about his thoughts as to when there will be a cure found. “The more we look, the more complex it becomes,” says Dr. Lieberman. “We will get a cure, yes. Can I tell you when? No. But it will come, in the next five years, 10 years; it will come.”
Donations can be made to help honor Dr. Lieberman and find a cure for Parkinson’s at SupportBarrow.org/LiebermanLegacy or by calling 602-406-3041.