Newswise — The Lifetime Achievement Award is the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine’s (AANEM) highest honor, and for 2018, AANEM is proud to announce James A. Leonard, Jr., MD, as its recipient. This award recognizes an AANEM member who has been a major contributor in the fields of neuromuscular and electrodiagnostic medicine through teaching, research, and scholarly publications.

“Dr. Leonard exemplifies lifelong commitment to the AANEM and is most deserving of this award,” said Timothy R. Dillingham, MD, MS, and Chair of the AANEM Awards Committee. “He has held almost every leadership position within AANEM and served on numerous committees and taskforces. With his strength of character and tireless commitment, he contributed on so many levels for the betterment of electrodiagnostic care. ”

Dr. Leonard says he went to medical school with the mindset that he was to become a pediatrician. However, physical medicine and rehabilitation (PMR) started to seep into his mind between his first and second year of medical school when he had an opportunity to participate in a 3-month research and clinical summer trainee program in the PMR department at the University of Michigan (UM).

“Following this summer experience, my intent was still to be a pediatrician. However, as I went through clinical rotations in my third and fourth years, I began working with patients who had considerable rehabilitation needs. I found that many of my medical colleagues did not see these needs or were not concerned about their patients’ needs in this area,” Dr. Leonard recalled.

That is when he began to see PMR as an attractive field of medicine.

“What I liked most was the fact that I would be able to follow my patients from cradle through adulthood to their passing from life. Ultimately, what finally convinced me to do PMR was a young 14 year old C2 ASIA spinal cord injury patient whom I was able to care for as a senior medical student. I have had the honor of working with some of the same patients now for the last 50 years -- since the early beginnings of my career as a student in the PMR department at the University of Michigan,” said Dr. Leonard. 

Upon completion of Dr. Leonard’s PMR training at UM, he entered active duty in the Army. He had the opportunity to work with amputees while he served in active duty for 3 years. 

“The amputee population I worked with on active duty were two groups: the younger ones included the Vietnam era active duty and veteran soldiers; the older ones were military retirees some of whom were World War II and Korean War veterans. Others were retirees who needed amputations due to complications from diabetes or vascular disease,” he explained.

“Our goal for those with limb loss is to be able to provide each individual with the tools they need or want to resume their lives in a manner that allows them to achieve their goals and dreams. Sometime we succeed and sometimes we don’t, but we continue to try.”

Dr. Leonard says that the military population with limb loss has the same fears, apprehension, hopes, and dreams about their future as civilian amputees.

“All amputees seem to experience a camaraderie because of their limb loss. The difference was the special camaraderie the young soldiers shared from nature of their injuries to their rehabilitation. I think this was due to common experiences of combat and their acute medical care inpatient rehabilitation often done as a group where they supported and encouraged each other. This is different than the typical rehabilitation program for civilian amputees which is most often done in a non-group outpatient setting.” 

Dr. Leonard served in the military reserves for 17 years after active duty. His work rehabilitating military and civilian patients with amputations has earned him the reputation as one of the foremost authorities on the subject. He has coedited texts, written multiple works, given hundreds of lectures, presented at board review conferences, and participated in research. He has received multiple teaching awards from UM and has been the recipient of the Distinguished Clinician Award from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPMR).      

In addition to this work rehabilitating patients with limb loss, caring for patients with neuromuscular disease and peripheral nerve problems has always been a large part of his practice.

“The performance and teaching of electrodiagnostic medicine has always been a major part of my duties. I was an active faculty attending in our main EMG lab up until the time of my retirement sabbatical. Over the last decade of my active faculty career, I was associated with our multidisciplinary Pediatric/Adult Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Clinic being responsible for the electrodiagnostic studies as well as participating in the clinical evaluations and rehabilitation plans for many of these patients,” he said. “Now that I am officially retired and an Active Emeritus faculty member, I will continue to do some clinical care with Amputee Program and the Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Clinics as well as collaborating on various research projects. The fun is that I can now do this on my schedule.”

Working with patients has been and continues to be what Dr. Leonard enjoys most about his job.

“I have always thought of PMR as primary care for a special population of patients – individuals that often other colleagues feel uncomfortable working with because of their impairments. I have been privileged to be able to provide care to many of my patients for the entirety or much of their lives, and in the process, have gotten to know their families, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren,” noted Dr. Leonard.

Dr. Leonard is excited about the significant recent technological advances in prosthetics to help improve the lives of amputee patients.

“The goal is to develop a prosthesis which will come as close as possible to replacing the function of the human limb. We are getting closer but still have a long way to go. I am very proud to be associated with a group of surgical, engineering, and other rehab colleagues that have developed some groundbreaking research toward developing a prosthesis which will ultimately be controlled through direct peripheral nerve interface. Spin off from this research work has led to successful new surgical techniques for controlling phantom pain and eliminating neuroma formation which has been a longstanding issue for many living with amputation.”

Dr. Leonard started his higher education at Maryknoll College in Illinois, then received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Detroit, followed by his medical degree from UM. He continued at UM for his residency in PMR serving as Chief Resident his final year. After his active duty in the military, Dr. Leonard returned to UM and worked his way up the ranks. He became a clinical professor and served as the PMR residency program director and then the PMR department chair, each for more than 10 years. 

As for his participation in AANEM, Dr. Leonard went to his first AANEM Annual Meeting in 1975 as a senior resident and has been a member since 1976. He had held dozens of formal positions on committees and served as both AANEM President and the Chair of the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine. Dr. Leonard was the Secretary Treasurer from 1990-1993 and served on the AANEM’s Finance Committee from 1987 through 2018 and as the AANEM Historian from 2006-2015. He helped AANEM through name changes as well as fundamental changes in the organization’s mission to grow from primarily an electrodiagnostic medicine association to incorporate and embrace neuromuscular medicine. He was awarded with AANEM’s Distinguished Physician Award in 2010.

AANEM thanks Dr. Leonard for his lifetime of dedication to medicine, teaching, research and service. 


Based in Rochester, Minnesota, the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM) is the premier nonprofit membership association dedicated to the advancement of neuromuscular (NM), musculoskeletal and electrodiagnostic (EDX) medicine. The organization and its members work to improve the quality of patient care and advance the science of NM diseases and EDX medicine by serving physicians and allied health professionals who care for those with muscle and nerve disorders. 

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