Dr. Paul Cheney’s roots in ME/CFS run deep. He and Dr. Daniel Peterson were the doctors of note in 1984 when Incline Village, a small resort town in the Sierra Nevada, was overrun with what appeared to be a new disease.
The Incline Village Outbreak, as it came to be known, would be the spark that fanned a fire. The CDC showed up (and quickly left) but CFS made the headlines around the world, and was thrust, after decades of silence, onto the medical agenda. Battling a hostile press, an angry town, and an uninterested federal bureaucracy, Dr. Cheney was heralded for his compassion and integrity, and the grit he showed in standing up for his ill patients.
Over the next couple of years, Dr. Cheney would co-author several seminal papers and become a powerful advocate for the disease. In 1990 he took his advocacy to the national level when he helped co-found the first (and still the only) professional organization on ME/CFS – the American Association of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (now the IACFS/ME).
Moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, Dr. Cheney and another prominent figure, Dr. Charles Lapp, together operated a clinic for a time. From there he made a move offshore, and he and his patients enjoyed the peace of Bald Head Island off the coast of North Carolina until Hurricane Floyd descended in 1999. The devastation the hurricane wrought prompted another change, and the Cheney Clinic now makes its home in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina.
Dr. Cheney’s unique orientation as a physicist turned physician assisted him in devising a novel theory of cellular dysregulation based on abnormalities in oxidative stress and mitochondrial energy production. An unusually innovative and pro-active physician, he’s pioneered the use of new diagnostic protocols and many new treatment options including breathing exercises, glutathione supplements, human growth hormone, and now cell signaling factors.
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His Three Phase approach to ME/CFS was the first to posit that distinct physiological and clinical time points occurred over the course of time in ME/CFS patients.
In 2003, Dr. Cheney had a brush with death as a viral infection required a heart transplant. Eight months later, however, he was back at work, and shortly afterward he stunned the ME/CFS community with his announcement that the heart was a central locus of dysfunction in this disease.
Building on prior study evidence of impaired stroke volume and diastolic dysfunction, Dr. Cheney brought new vigor to a sadly ignored aspect of the disease. Over the past five years he has deepened and refined his understanding of the diastolic dysfunction in ME/CFS and laid out a provocative, if controversial, paradigm of the disease.
Dr. Cheney has regularly communicated his ideas to the always information-hungry ME/CFS community through a more or less bi-annual series of videotaped lectures to the Dallas-Fort Worth CFIDS Association.
An evocative figure, he presented his new ideas in the Keynote Address at the 2007 IACFS/ME Conference in Miami. In 2008 he helped open the International Conference on Functional Medicine in Carlsbad, California, with a talk on “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Oxidative Stress and Pain,” an unusual honor for an ME/CFS physician.
One of our few ME/CFS specialists, Dr. Paul Cheney has made understanding ME/CFS and treating ME/CFS patients his life’s work.
* Cort Johnson, a noted research reporter, is founder of the website Phoenix Rising: A Guide to ME/CFS (http://www.phoenix-cfs.org) and publisher of the bi-monthly Phoenix Rising Newsletter.