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George Kraft, MD, professor emeritus at the UW School of Medicine, passed away on Nov. 1, 2022. Kraft was a titan in the field of multiple sclerosis (MS) care, research and education, an expert electro-diagnostician and a key faculty member for 51 years.

Kraft was born in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 27, 1936. He received an Artium Baccalaureus (AB) in economics from Harvard College in 1958, as well as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in 1963 and a Master of Science (MS) degree in 1967, both from The Ohio State University. He completed a physical medicine and rehabilitation residency at The Ohio State University in 1967.

Educator, researcher and clinician

Kraft served with the Medical Corps of the U.S. Navy from 1967 to 1969. In 1969, he began his long association with the University of Washington, joining the faculty of the UW School of Medicine Department of Rehabilitation Medicine as an assistant professor, and reaching the rank of professor in 1976, a position he held until 2012 when he became a professor emeritus — although he didn’t fully retire until 2020. He also held the position of adjunct professor in the Department of Neurology from 1999 to 2012 and was the inaugural Nancy and Buster Alvord Professor of Multiple Sclerosis Research from 2005 to 2015.

Among the many notable honors of his career, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in 2011, as well as a Distinguished Clinician Award, Walter J. Zeiter Award and Frank H. Krusen Award from the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. He also received the Distinguished Academician Award from the Association of Academic Physiatrists. He has the remarkable achievement of serving as the President of the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, the Association of Academic Physiatrists, the American Association of Neuromuscular and Electrodiagnostic Medicine, and as Chair of the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine.

Dedicated to multiple sclerosis care

Throughout his long career, Dr. Kraft made significant contributions as an educator and a clinician. He received many citations as a top physician and was recognized by his colleagues and trainees as an exceptional mentor to the next generation of clinicians and psychologists interested in MS. He filled important roles on local, national and international committees. While his career was multidimensional, Kraft will be best remembered for his tremendous achievements in multiple sclerosis care. His seminal achievements in MS research changed our understanding of the disease and transformed care for people with MS at UW Medicine and beyond.

In the late 70s, when there were very few, if any, dedicated MS centers across the U.S., Dr. Kraft helped organize the first multi-disciplinary MS Center as a joint venture between the departments of rehabilitation medicine and neurology at the UW. At the time, his insight into the necessity for interdisciplinary care for MS was new. Today, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society only certifies comprehensive centers that combine rehabilitation, neurology, and mental healthcare according to the model first developed by Kraft. In 1982, he became director of the UW MS Center. Under his leadership, the center made tremendous strides in understanding MS and improving the care and treatment of people with the disease.

In addition to making a multidisciplinary approach central to the care of patients with MS, Kraft was also the first to illustrate empirically that fatigue was the most common and, for many, one of the most disabling symptoms of MS. Today, fatigue is accepted as a core clinical measure for MS. He was also one of the first to recognize and write about the way the many symptoms of MS synergistically impact patients.

Kraft’s prolific research was always rooted in care and concern for his patients. He was noted for his empathy and ability to truly listen to his patients. He maintained a patient-focus in his research and helped transform the culture of MS research by establishing the UW MS Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, which conducts patient-centered research. The hundreds of studies conducted through the center have changed our understanding of MS and how to best care for patients to maximize functioning and quality of life. As a mentor and educator, Kraft tirelessly supported trainees and has been formative in many junior faculty’s careers who, with his mentorship and guidance, successfully established independence and thriving careers.

Throughout his life, Kraft had a tremendous impact on MS research and healthcare, and his influence will continue for decades. Thanks to his tireless vision, advocacy and empathy, the care and treatment of people with MS has forever changed.

Originally posted on the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine website.