Dr. Richard Andrew Sewell, 41, neuropsychiatrist, assistant professor, pioneering researcher
Dr. Richard Andrew Sewell entered Yale-New Haven Hospital for elective, but major, surgery on July 9, and on the evening of July 21, he died of post-operative complications, the causes of which have yet to be revealed to his family.
Andrew was born in Sussex, England, on November 22, 1971, and was joined in May 1973, by a sister, Joanne, This small, but caring, big brother showed the empathy and sensitivity that became so evident to all during his adult life.
From August 1979 to July 1982, the Sewell family lived in Ottawa, Canada, and in July 1982, they relocated to Haviland Road in Ridgefield. His parents promised the children a computer and a puppy to soften the blow of this second relocation; gerbils and pet mice seamlessly compensated for the non-appearance of the puppy, and the computer became a part of the family.
Ridgefield’s educational system served Andrew well: in fifth grade, at a Farmingville Elementary School concert, having programmed the school’s new Atari, he majestically took to the stage and pressed the button to have this early home computer play “Sunrise, Sunset.” In Ridgefield High School, he had a wide circle of like-minded friends who enjoyed playing elaborate board games and making movies. He particularly enjoyed his AP classes, and he played his clarinet in the school’s orchestra.
Andrew graduated with the class of 1989 and headed to Cornell University, where, in 1993, he was awarded a BA in Physics. Two years earlier, he had surprised his parents with the news that he planned to switch to pre-med and not to follow his father into the ethereal field of Theoretical Physics: “I want to see positive results of my work with people.” In June this year, he and his wife, Nikki (a Social Worker at Yale Psychiatric Hospital), attended his 20-year class reunion.
Andrew earned his MD from the University of Connecticut in 1998, and in 2004, he was the first to complete a combined residency in Neurology and Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, where he served as Chief Resident in Neuropsychiatry. He was board-certified in both disciplines.
Two years as a research fellow at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School followed. During this time, Andrew published the first paper ever on the response of cluster headache to psilocybin and LSD, and he presented his data both at the American Psychiatric Association Annual Meeting and at the International Symposium in Basel, Switzerland in 2006. He published widely on cluster headache (CH) and the relationship between cannabis and psychosis. He was actively associated with “Clustersbusters,” which is a research and educational organization dedicated to finding relief for those who suffer debilitating cluster headaches. Mourning his loss, one sufferer posted this message on its online forum: “My life changed forever because of his genuine concern and frankness regarding CH patients.”
Andrew returned to Connecticut in 2007 to work with veterans at the VA Hospital in West Haven, and in 2012, he was the recipient of a Career Award from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He completed a fellowship in schizophrenia research at Yale University School of Medicine and subsequently joined the Neuropsychopharmacology Research Group at Yale, where he was involved in several laboratory studies probing the neurobiology of mental illness, including work on the role of cannabinoids in extinction learning and in the treatment of pain and PTSD. He is remembered fondly by his colleagues “for his enthusiasm, his commitment to his patients, his varied interests and his unique perspective on life and science.”
As one of the founders of the Connecticut Oak Burners, Andrew introduced many to the annual Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert, appreciating its non-judgmental, non-materialistic culture of total inclusion, giving, helping and cooperating with others. He contributed by offering his medical skills, his caring and his ability to foster hilarity.
Those who were particularly close to Andrew will never forget his exuberance, his sense of humor, his innovative way of seeing the world, his always increasing range of interests (most recently, beekeeping), his absolute honesty and commitment to friends and his ability to cram more activity into a day than most people manage in a year.
Andrew loved to entertain with “theme parties,” and friends and immediate family celebrated his life on July 27 at the couple’s home in West Haven. He cherished Nikki, his wife of less than two years; she was a true soul mate and made him happier than he had ever been.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Richard Andrew Sewell leaves his parents, Dr. Harry and Mrs. Lynne Sewell of Mountain Road, Ridgefield, his sister, Joanne, of Boston and relatives in Cardiff, Wales, and Toronto, Canada. He is also mourned by Nikki’s family in Traverse City, Michigan.
The Jowdy Kane Funeral home will handle the cremation after the autopsy findings have been made known. Most of Andrew’s ashes will be interred in Ridgebury Cemetery on a date to be announced by his family, and at which time, they will welcome friends to their home.
Donations in his memory may be made to Doctors Without Borders and the ACLU. His family thanks friends and neighbors for their wonderful support at this time.
For Andrew, no problem was too great; no mountain too tall. We’ll try to follow his example as we attempt to cope with his absence from our lives.