Leslie S. Ritter, R.N., Ph.D., FAAN, a noted stroke researcher at the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson, began her career as a nurse. Today, she combines the compassion of that role with a passion for science, seeking answers about stroke injury and recovery. “The two worlds are complementary,” she notes. “Clinical practice and outreach inform us of the problems for which there are still no perfect solutions; the bench science might someday provide new solutions to those problems.”
Dr. Ritter is a pioneer in the effort to bring these worlds together. As a cardiac intensive care nurse she saw the devastating effects of heart disease and stroke every day. When the American Heart Association launched its early stroke awareness campaign known as Operation Stroke in the 1990s, she joined the Tucson, Arizona, community outreach effort. It included a survey of hospital readiness to treat stroke and led to engaging local stakeholders in improving outcomes – a process which continues today. In addition, Dr. Ritter is a coordinator of the University of Arizona Medical Center’s Primary Stroke Center.
With respect to her science, she notes: “There were (and still are) so many unanswered questions about the individual differences in stroke risk, acute injury and recovery. Survivors and their family members ask ‘why,’ and we don’t always know. This is really what inspired me to go back to school-- to help find the answers.” She received her Ph.D. in Physiological Sciences from UA and focused her research on the mechanisms of inflammation during reperfusion, the much-needed return of nourishing blood to the heart or brain.
She is currently a professor in the College of Nursing and Department of Neurology at the University of Arizona and was recently appointed the Sarver Heart Center’s William Feinberg Endowed Chair for Stroke Research.
Dr. Ritter has made great strides in community outreach. At the same time she is studying links between inflammation and stroke in the lab, she plays a key role in establishing Primary Stroke Centers and stroke support groups in southern Arizona. She is a member of the Western States Affiliate Research Committee, Peer Review Committee and Stroke Task Force; and, is a driving force behind the Tucson Stroke Leadership Group. “I am grateful and honored to be involved in a network of people from the bench to the bedside and the community; all dedicated to improving stroke outcomes. This is a unique place in time where my background as a nurse and my research combine to help stroke victims and their families.”