Who Is @TheNotoriousEEG?
Meet M. Scott Perry, M.D., head of Neurosciences at the Jane and John Justin Institute for Mind Health
By Ashley Antle
To many parents and their children, M. Scott Perry, M.D., head of Neurosciences at the Jane and John Justin Institute for Mind Health at Cook Children’s, is best known as an epileptologist. One who isn’t afraid to take on rare and difficult childhood epilepsies. An active clinical researcher, always searching for therapies to treat and cure epilepsy. A relentless advocate for his patients.
But his more than 8,000 Twitter followers know him as @TheNotoriousEEG, and follow him for his take on everything from epilepsy research to food, music and art. Despite his healthy following, Dr. Perry was initially reluctant to join the Twitterverse.
“At some point, people within the hospital asked me if I would consider joining social media, and my immediate answer was, ‘No, thank you,’ because I have a lot of stuff to do, and I don't need to add another activity to my life,” Dr. Perry said. “But they seemed to think I would be good at it. So I decided if I could come up with a handle that was clever enough, then I will do it.”
Dr. Perry elicited naming ideas through a contest with his colleagues in the neuroscience department but none of the suggestions felt right. Then, it came to him: @TheNotoriousEEG, a play on his love for 90’s rap music and his favorite artist, The Notorious B.I.G., coupled with a nod to his work with the acronym of a common neurologic test called an electroencephalogram (EEG).
Dr. Perry’s Twitter feed is as diverse as his interests. Yes, you’ll find a lot of posts about epilepsy awareness and medical research, but you’ll also see pictures of the nightly meals he cooks for his family, his weekend cheer dad persona as he follows his youngest daughter to cheer competitions, and his support of Texas Christian University where his oldest daughter is studying to be a nurse. Scroll a little more and you’ll pick up on his love for art, something he gets from his antique-loving mother with an eye for beautiful things.
His initial reluctancy to tweet has given way to cautious appreciation, and he’s proven himself a natural at harnessing the power of social media for good.
“Despite all of Twitter's problems, I think that it's a good platform for scientists, frankly, to share information very quickly,” he said. “It's a great way to connect with patients and other advocates quickly and to bring them information that maybe they don't have available to them or to gain knowledge from others that you didn’t have access to. It's a way to share expertise widely with people that might not have access to some of those things all the time. Beyond that, it's a good way to show people that doctors have lives and personalities and, to some degree, we are regular people, too.”
The Doctor from the Delta
Dr. Perry’s road to becoming a world-class pediatric epileptologist began in the Mississippi Delta where he was born and raised in the small town of Cleveland, Mississippi — home to the Delta State Fighting Okra! His father owned and operated a used car company and his extended family operated lots throughout Mississippi. The family business is still in operation today with his two older siblings at the helm.
As a kid, Dr. Perry had his sights set on an occupation that would take him far beyond Mississippi into parts unknown. He wanted to conquer space exploration as an astronaut. But, during a stint at Space Camp, Dr. Perry was told his vision was not perfect and he would never be able to command a space shuttle.
“If you know my personality, my goal is to be the commander,” Dr. Perry said. “So I had to step out of the astronaut business and try to look at something else. Being a doctor sounded challenging.”
During his junior and senior year of high school, Dr. Perry attended the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, followed by Emory University in Georgia for his undergraduate degree in physics. That’s also where he met his wife of 22 years, Becky.
Dr. Perry went back to his home state to earn his medical degree at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. It was there that a neuroanatomy class stoked his desire to specialize in neurology. He said that, for him, the subject matter “just clicked.”
Following medical school, Dr. Perry returned to Emory University for his pediatrics and child neurology residencies. In 2008, he joined Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, Florida, to pursue a neurophysiology fellowship.
Westbound to Cowtown
When his training was complete, Dr. Perry longed for a place to practice medicine free from the bureaucracy that came with medical facilities attached to teaching institutions. It just so happened that he came across an advertisement for Cook Children’s. He had never heard of the place, but was impressed that the medical center had an epilepsy monitoring unit and was performing a healthy amount of epilepsy surgeries, which is where his interest lied.
“It just sounded like a decent opportunity, so I decided I'd come and give it a shot and see who these people were,” Dr. Perry said. “I came and interviewed here and I really loved the concept of what they were doing, and how these were essentially private practice neurologists. They were doing things that you would typically only see being done in an academic medical institution, but they were doing it here in a private children's hospital. This kind of pioneering spirit they had was really impressive to me.”
Thirteen years later, Dr. Perry has blazed a trail at Cook Children's as an expert in rare genetic epilepsies and epilepsy surgery.
“I find both of those things incredibly rewarding because I love to tackle very difficult cases and break them down, hopefully, to determine either where the seizures are coming from or why the seizures are occurring,” he said.
He’s admittedly the type of person that does not deal well with incremental change. It's either go big or go home. That’s why Dr. Perry loves epilepsy surgery. When a patient comes out of an operation seizure-free or with significantly reduced seizure activity for the first time in their lives, it’s an immediate payoff.
When an operation can’t cure a condition, like in the case of many genetic epilepsies, it is his patients and their families that keep him going. The tenacity of the families that deal with these conditions, and the relentless drive to help their children through advocacy, forming their own non-profits, and funding the research necessary to find cures, is all the inspiration he requires to do his job daily. Dr. Perry says that, thanks in large part to their efforts, we see the advent of new therapies and the potential of disease-modifying treatments to correct the underlying genetic cause of these rare conditions.
Collaborating for Mind Health
In addition to his patient load, Dr. Perry is overseeing the transformation of Cook Children’s divisions of neurosciences with the development of a unique and comprehensive care model for children with diseases of the nervous system. It’s known as The Jane and John Justin Institute for Mind Health at Cook Children’s. Nine specialties that commonly overlap in the treatment of nervous system disorders, and have traditionally been siloed in separate locations, are coming together under one roof to make care easier and more efficient for patients and families. The Justin Institute will also open the door of collaboration between physicians and other providers when it comes to shared patients.
“I'm excited about the potential convenience for families to be able to get everything done in one fail swoop. To park your car once, and to miss one day of work, and to get out of school one day and get everything you need,” Dr. Perry said. “Then on the backside, knowing that your doctors are all down the hallway from each other and can be face-to-face about your care and make sure everybody's on the same page.”
Dr. Perry has personally curated much of the neuro-focused art that will hang in the hallways of the Justin Institute, housed in the newly expanded Dodson Specialty Clinics building at Cook Children’s Medical Center. The pieces range from paintings of Fort Worth’s skyline to images of the brain made from glass. All of the art installations were created by artists with a connection to the neurosciences in an effort to make the topic of brain science more approachable.
“I'm very excited about the building because I have spent a lot of time obsessing about how it’s going to look and how it's going to work,” he said. “It'll be our version of Disney for neuroscience. A place you look forward to coming to for the care of your child.”
Getting the Justin Institute up and running hasn’t been easy, but for someone who wants the best possible care experience for patients, it’s been worth it. He says bringing this many specialties together in order to attain a collaborative network encourages change across all nine divisions. It has required a lot of listening and learning on his part in order to understand how specialties outside of his, like behavioral health or developmental pediatrics, run their clinics so that they can build a care model that is good for patients and providers.
Collaboration within the Justin Institute will also expand neuroscience research opportunities into behavioral health, developmental psychology, autism and other disorders associated with the nervous system.
Even though Cook Children’s is not a traditional academic medical center affiliated with a teaching institution where research is a cornerstone of the programming, the medical center has a robust research arm. It’s one of the things that attracted Dr. Perry to the health care system.
“We're the most academic, non-academic place in the country, in my opinion,” Dr. Perry said. “I think the way we're doing it is unique and offers more opportunity for access to patients for enrollment. I like to think it's a bit healthier research environment because the Dodson Neurosciences Research Endowment is there to cover the salaries of the research employees regardless of grant funding. And then, because we're not tied to any one institution, it allows us to collaborate with numerous institutions and have multiple partners.”
Dr. Perry was instrumental in launching the Dodson Neurosciences Research Endowment at Cook Children’s, which he says is a game changer in taking the medical center, already renowned for its clinical care, to one also recognized for ground-breaking research. It’s one of his proudest accomplishments so far.
Even with all of these big medical career moments, Dr. Perry has not forgotten his Mississippi Delta roots. Look no further than his Twitter feed for proof. Shrimp and grits, po-boys and gumbo — all home-cooked by one of the nation’s leading epileptologists, aka @TheNotoriousEEG.
“I'm just a simple man from Mississippi,” Dr. Perry said. “I just happen to be pretty decent at epilepsy.”