Dandy of Johns Hopkins

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/04/06 15:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2006/04/06/569957.aspx

(not much that is technical in this post)

Regular readers may recall that I mentioned a while back that I had once seriously considered neurosurgery as a career.

On this particular day (April 6th), way back in 1886, Walter Edward Dandy was born. He was a brilliant neurosurgeon, and some of his idiosynchroncies influenced my own behavior (for example, I shaved for many years with a straight razor just as he did -- under the theory that anyone arrogant enough to even consider surgery should be quite unafraid to shave this way).

He also, in several different neurological surgeries on brain tumors and aneurysms, ran into many situations affecting language and cogniton that I remember being spellbound by, wanting to learn more and more -- perhaps representing my first serious research into anything involving language (from a very different viewpoint than from how I look at it today).

Believe it or not, I even briefly (while looking at colleges) looked at the University of Missouri at Columbia, for no other reason than (a) having some family in Missouri and (b) knowing that it was where Dr. Dandy did his undergraduate work. I think I still have the brochures in a box somewhere. Of course it was a very different school by then, so it may be just as well that this look was not too serious. :-)

Grabbing a short bio from the CNS site:

Walter Edward Dandy was born April 6, 1886 in the small prairie town of Sedalia, Missouri. He was raised in a tiny house on 5th Street, surrounded by English immigrants who, like his father, worked on the railroads.

After graduating in 1903 from Sedalia High School as valedictorian of his class, he entered the University of Missouri at Columbia. As a junior at the University of Missouri, he enrolled in a 2-year medical program, but in 1910, he took his B.A. and transferred to Johns Hopkins Medical School as a 2nd - year student. He was the first person in either of his parents' families to attend college.

At Hopkins, his ability became apparent very early to several of his professors. Among them was Franklin P. Mall, professor of Anatomy, who entrusted a very early human embryo to Dandy to study. The results of this project were published in 1910 in "A human embryo of seven pairs of somites measuring 2 mm. in length.

Another professor who took an interest in Dandy was Harvey Cushing, who had founded the Hunterian Lab several years earlier and appointed him his first surgical assistant in that lab. Research in the Hunterian at that time focused on the pituitaries of cats and dogs.

Dandy's conflict with Cushing began during this period. Although the true source is sketchy, we do learn from the letters that tensions arose of difference in the conclusions of both men in their research on the pituitary and later, hydrocephalus. Relations between the two men deteriorated to the point that when Cushing left Hopkins to go to Harvard, he decided against taking Dandy with him as he had promised.

Dandy was distressed at this turn of events because he had turned down a position at Hopkins for the following year. However, he stayed on at Hopkins after the Superintendent of the Hospital, Winford Smith, offered him a room there and Dr. Halsted, who considered Dandy one of his most brilliant pupils, appointed him assistant professor of surgery. From that time on, Dandy remained at Hopkins, becoming its leading neurosurgeon until his death at 60 in 1946.

His contributions to the field of neurosurgery include 159 articles and 5 books, among them a classic text on neurosurgery, "Surgery of the Brain" (1935). The discovery of ventriculography was considered his greatest contribution. He performed over 2000 operations, among them operations for hydrocephalus, brain abscesses, subdural hematoma, trifacial neuralgia, and intervertebral discs.

In 1924 he married Sadie Martin, a dietician at Hopkins Hospital. They had four children, Walter, Jr. (b. 1925), Mary Ellen (b.1927), Kitty (b. 1928), and Margaret (b.1935). He was devoted to his family and had a quiet home life, with occasional winter trips to Florida and summer vacations in West Virginia. He enjoyed golf, bridge, travel, trains, and Civil War history, but by far the major part of this life was spent on his work and family.

Dandy's personality was complicated and confusing to many. It is helpful to understand the personalities of his parents because he was a combination of both. He resembled his father in his kindness, gentleness, and caring for other people. But he was like his mother in his inner-direction, bluntness, short temper, and perfectionism. These traits were often in conflict, and there many who saw only one side or the other. Those who were willing or able to look beneath the surface usually found the often buried generous and loving side.

There was also an (in my opinion) excellent biography written by William Lloyd Fox entitled Dandy of Johns Hopkins, which was published in 1984 and which I first ran across probably some time in 1989. It goes into a lot more detail, including more information about the Dandy/Cushing conflict.

Fox also relayed an interesting bit from a communication between Dandy and friend/colleague Ralph Nelson Greene about Multiple Sclerosis:

"Sometimes I wish you would tell me," he [Dandy] wrote, "why multiple sclerosis was one of the uncommon conditions occurring among a series of spinal cord tumors; now a tumor is uncommon and a large series of cases of multiple sclerosis [appear]." Greene replied that he thought the reason why they were seeing more cases of m.s. than earlier was because "...the whole human race has been infected and ill with that diagnostic condition which we have been prone to call 'Flu.' This is an infection that the human family battled against ever since the war. I wonder if it is not the principal factor in the production of so many cases of multiple sclerosis." (from letters between Dany and Greene on March 15th, 1934 and March 19th, 1934)

Current theory about MS does not suggest (in fact rather firmly refutes) a causative role of flu in the disease itself, but illness of any sort can lead to the initial exacerbation and thus it is easy to see that Greene's point may have some merit here.

In any case, I just thought it would be nice to say a few words about a man who managed to inspire many people in very significant ways, and even little old me in slightly more indirect manner....

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referenced by

2015/04/07 Thinking about Dr. Walter Dandy again....

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