On Thursdays, we highlight an oral history featuring health care leaders who shaped the past and laid the foundation for the future. Since 1978, the AHA has conducted more than 100 interviews as part of this project and transcripts are available in the oral history collection on the AHA’s Resource Center webpage. The following oral history with Edward Eckenhoff comes from an interview conducted in 2015.

As most Transylvania University students were gearing up for summer vacation, Edward Eckenhoff’s life drastically changed in the blink of an eye. A car accident had taken the life of his college roommate and left Eckenhoff, a freshman at the university, with a broken back and spinal cord. With legs paralyzed, his focus changed from athletic to academic pursuits. He went on to finish his undergraduate studies with honors before obtaining his master’s degree in education from the University of Kentucky.

Eckenhoff spent three months in a rehabilitation hospital and, with the help of braces, crutches and dedicated caregivers, he recovered from his injuries and learned to walk again. Undoubtedly, Eckenhoff’s experience in the rehabilitation hospital influenced his professional life, which he spent mostly in rehabilitation hospitals—as a leader. His career took him from the renowned Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to the founding of the National Rehabilitation Hospital (now known as the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network) in Washington, D.C.

Eckenhoff gives an account of how he went about brokering relationships and using networks of powerful friends to secure prominent Washingtonians to serve on the founding board of the National Rehabilitation Hospital, which opened in 1986. He also describes the early challenges of attracting top-flight clinicians to the new hospital in D.C. as well as succession planning and the transition of leadership at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Network. 

Eckenhoff died in January after a battle with cancer. He was 74. To read his obituary, click here

Watch a video of Eckenhoff here. To read the full oral history transcript, click here