Scott Mackler, a longtime Penn professor, pioneering addiction researcher and physician who battled for 15 years with Lou Gehrig’s disease, died Wednesday evening at his Delaware home following complications with the disease. He was 55.
Mackler was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, medically known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 1999. The disease left Mackler confined to a wheelchair, unable to speak or move any of his muscles. He communicated by shifting his eyes slightly to the left or right, indicating letter-by-letter what he was trying to spell out.
“His mind knows exactly what he wants to say, but he’s trapped — a prisoner inside his own body,” Harvey Mackler, his older brother and a 1975 Wharton graduate, told The Daily Pennsylvanian in an article last semester.
Mackler’s death on Wednesday was sudden and unexpected, his family said. Mackler, who earned all four of his academic degrees from Penn, had worked a normal day at his Perelman School of Medicine lab on Wednesday.
“He came home around his usual time, watched ‘Jeopardy!’ — nothing seemed out of the ordinary,” his youngest son, Noah Snyder-Mackler, a 2007 College graduate, said. “His body had taken a lot of wear and tear, but we didn’t expect this.”
Born in 1958, Mackler grew up in Bloomfield, N.J. In addition to his academic achievements, Mackler excelled at athletics. He played soccer while he was a student at Penn and was an avid runner for years. Before he was diagnosed with ALS, at age 40, he often jogged through Penn’s campus after work.
“Penn was his heart,” his wife, Lynn Snyder-Mackler, said. “Penn was his alma mater. It was the place where he learned. It was the place that nurtured him as a young investigator and nurtured him beyond belief as a disabled investigator.”
Despite his condition, Mackler kept up an active research life, continuing to direct his ground floor lab at the John Morgan Building until his death on Wednesday. He was driven to and from campus several times each week by his nurses, who stayed with him throughout the day in his lab.
Earlier this month, Mackler had a paper published in the journal “Neuroscience.” The paper focused on the role that NAC1, a protein that Mackler discovered in 1996, plays in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
Continuing to be an active member of the scientific community, Mackler often said, was second only to being a good father and husband.
“I have no desire to slow down,” Mackler told The Daily Pennsylvanian earlier this year. “I am a scientist. I have so many ideas and want to see this work continue and even explore new areas. I have fulfilling work.”
Mackler’s story was featured on CBS News’ “60 Minutes” in 2008. He often spoke about his life to first-year medical students at Penn, through an automated presentation that he recorded years ago.
Mackler is survived by his wife, Lynn; two sons, Alexander and Noah; daughter-in-law, Laura; and brother and sister, Harvey and Randi.
The family is holding a memorial service at Temple Beth El in Newark, Del., on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Scott A. Mackler Assistive Technology Fund at the ALS Association of Greater Philadelphia.
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