Philip Haydon is an internationally recognized neuroscientist, and the Annetta and Gustav Grisard Professor and Chair of the Department of Neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine. He runs an active laboratory researching a multitude of neurological disorders, including epilepsy. As president of Sail For Epilepsy, Phil is on a mission to inspire people with epilepsy, their families, and their caregivers to take One More Step towards living a fuller life, with the necessary safety measures in place.
When Phil was 15 years old, he was heading home from the last day of school when a drunken teenager unexpectedly threw a house brick that struck him in the forehead. This caused a depressed compound fracture of the skull, which in turn triggered post-traumatic epilepsy. He was in and out of medical care and eventually fitted with a vitallium plate to cover the hole in his skull, and given medications to prevent seizures. Phil has been fortunate to have his epilepsy medically controlled since 1976; however, his lifetime journey with epilepsy has certainly been a voyage. Phil hid his epilepsy for decades out of fear that people – colleagues – would view him differently. Roughly ten years ago, he decided to start talking about it. For more details regarding Phil’s injury, subsequent medical and personal struggles, and ultimate successes, he welcomes you to read about his journey with epilepsy.
What about sailing?
Phil began to sail using the age-old trial and error method. One afternoon a fellow grad-student asked if he would like to take a sail. He agreed confidently, thinking “how hard could this be with another sailor?”. After setting out on a small boat, they capsized within a few yards. Both looked at each other nervously asking, “How do we get the boat back up?” Somehow they figured it out and over the next several hours and multiple capsizes learned how to turn through the wind, determined to get the boat back to the dock safely.
Phil took American Sailing Association classes on the Delaware River in 2007, and after moving to Boston, purchased a boat that they named Prairie Gold. He has sailed Prairie Gold roughly 18,000 nautical miles, mostly in the New England coastal waters. After several years of cruising, Phil participated in the 2015 New Year’s Day race run by the Constitution Yacht Club and was immediately bitten by the racing bug. He’s had a few victories, winning the 2017 doublehanded Beringer Bowl from Marblehead to Provincetown, MA and later that year was awarded the Mass Bay Rookie of the Year award (disclaimer: this award is based on number of years racing, not age!). In 2019, he won the Newport, RI based double-handed Ida Lewis race with co-captain Mike DiMella.
By 2015, Phil wanted to sail in remote offshore areas where he would have to face new challenges – lack of sleep, hydration, provisioning, navigation and general fatigue. He made a few long-distance sails, either solo or double-handed, completed the qualifying requirements for a long-distance race, and in 2017 entered the Bermuda 1-2 race hosted by the Newport Yacht Club.
This race captured Phil’s imagination. He spent five months preparing for the event, optimizing the boat, figuring out his provisioning, and planning best sleep practices (naps!) to get sufficient rest. His preparations paid off, as he finished 4th in class in the solo leg, 3rd in the double-handed leg and 3rd overall – in his first attempt!
Now Phil is challenging himself again, setting out to sail the oceans of the world in hopes of inspiring people with epilepsy, promoting awareness and connecting with local communities worldwide.
For thirty years, Phil’s research has focused on the role of glial cells in the modulation of neurons, and recently the use of glial targets as therapeutic interventions for brain disorders. Some of his published studies have led to innovation in the neurosciences, demonstrating that glial cells are active participants in brain signaling in health and disease, including neurological and psychiatric disorders. For a deeper look into Phil’s research, you can read more about the “Philip Haydon Lab” at Tufts Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
Throughout Phil’s career, he has been energized by the interface between academic science and industry. He was a founder and partner in Prairie Technologies, a privately held company that developed state-of-the-art microscopy tools (including 2 Photon microscopes) and was subsequently acquired by Bruker Instruments. He was also co-founder and President of GliaCure, Inc., which has developed a small molecule modulator of the P2Y6R as a potential therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease and asthma. Phil has received several prestigious awards, including a McKnight Investigator Award and the Jacob Javits Award from the National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. More recently, he co-founded Naveris, a new company specializing in diagnostics for viral-induced cancers.