Muriel Lezak, Leading Authority on Brain Injuries, Dies at 94

The Four Percent


She added, “As my career developed, it was fun; he wore me like a rose in his buttonhole.”

Dr. Lezak worked at clinics and taught psychology at Portland State College (now University) and the University of Portland from 1949 until she began her 19-year tenure at the V.A. hospital in 1966. In 1985, she left to teach at the Oregon Health & Science University, where she was a professor of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry until 2005. She long had a private practice, and she continued to see patients until a few years ago.

As early as 1982, Dr. Lezak sounded an alarm about the impact of head injuries incurred by athletes; in 1999 and 2001, she was an author and researcher of studies that found cognitive impairment in amateur and professional soccer players caused by repeatedly using their heads to hit the ball. She and Erik Matser, a co-author of both studies, warned of second-impact syndrome in which a seemingly harmless blow to the head can cause a serious injury.

“I’d say that anybody under the age of 18 should not be heading,” she told The New York Times in 2001. “I think there’s some risks you just don’t take, because if you do have damage to the brain, there will be some residuals, and they won’t go away.”

She was also an expert witness in various legal cases, including one in 2011 in which she concluded that Gary Haugen, a twice-convicted murderer who was sitting on death row in Oregon and wanted to be executed, had a “delusional disorder that makes him incompetent to be executed.” Mr. Haugen said he hadn’t given his permission to use the results of Dr. Lezak’s examination as part of his defense lawyers’ effort to block his execution.

In addition to her grandson Stephen, Dr. Lezak is survived by her daughters, Anne and Miriam Lezak, and eight other grandchildren. Her son, David, died in 2014. Her husband died in 2006.

In her interview with Dr. Haaland, Dr. Lezak recalled that before her textbook was published, patients with brain disorders and dysfunction were given a battery of standard tests by technicians, who gave the results to a psychologist.

“God forbid the psychologist ever really saw the patient!” she said. “My book emphasized focusing on the patient and doing what was appropriate for the patient, not the test purveyor.”


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