Elisha S. Gurdjian
In 1971, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons honored one of the giants of neurosurgery, a man who made an impact in the fields of basic research, clinical excellence, applied research, and education. Because of him and others like him, there are fewer giants in neurosurgery, for they, through their fine training programs, have elevated the stature of all neurosurgeons.
It is always difficult to select the most distinguished accomplishment from such a varied career, but I suspect that Dr. Gurdjian himself might choose his doctoral dissertation on "The Diencephalon of the Rat" (3), published in 1927 under the guidance of Drs. Carl G. Huber and Elizabeth C. Crosby, his advisors in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Michigan. On the other hand, I would select the basic work done in biomechanical investigation, "Mechanism of Head Injury as Studied by the Cathode Ray Oscilloscope--Preliminary Report." In conjunction with his colleague Professor Herbert Lissner, Dr. Gurdjian clearly established the practicality of combined disciplinary research associating neurosurgeons and engineers, thereby giving origin to important discipline of bioengineering. Residents are likely to remember him best as a teacher and counselor whose direct comment and embarrassing questions soon developed the trainees' areas of strength and weakness.
Dr. Gurdjian was born in Smyrna, Asia Minor, in April 1900. He attended the International College in Smyrna and graduated from there with an A.B. in 1919. He came to Michigan in 1920 and entered the University of Michigan Medical School. After the war between Greece and Turkey from 1921 to 1922, his family emigrated to Athens, Greece.
During his time in medical school Dr. Gurdjian came to the attention of Dr. Huber, chairman of the Department of Anatomy, and became involved in a combined medical and graduate program, receiving his M.S. in 1924, his M.D. in 1926, and his Ph.D. in 1927. After a period of internship and general surgical training, Dr. Gurdjian entered the residency training program of Dr. Max Peer at the University of Michigan, immediately following Dr. Edgar A. Kahn, our guest in 1964. Upon completion of his residency training program, Dr. Gurdjian moved to Detroit and began his clinical practice of neurosurgery, a practice in which he was still actively engaged in 1971.
Neurosurgery was established as a separate department in the Wayne State University School of Medicine in 1957 and Dr. Gurdjian was appointed the department's first professor and chairman, a post he held until his Medical School retirement in July 1970. In 1971, he was professor emeritus in the Department of Neurosurgery and was continuing his activities within the department, planning for changes in his textbook, Operative Neurosurgery, and writing a monograph about his studies in the field of impact head injury.
Although Dr. Gurdjian practiced neurosurgery in many hospitals throughout the city in his early years, he has for the most part confined his clinical activities to the Grace Hospital, of which he was chief of staff from 1961 to 1963, and to the Detroit General Hospital (formerly Receiving Hospital) where he was also chief of staff in 1952. In 1971, he was active in the clinical practice of neurosurgery, but he had turned over most of his hospital functions to his colleagues in private practice and to his successors in the department at the school.
Dr. Gurdjian and Dr. John E. Webster, his former associate, were early interested in the neurosurgical aspects ofcerebrovascular disease and did much to promulgate the use of angiography in the study of this disease. The Department of Neurosurgery at Wayne under Dr. Gurdjian's direction was an active member of the cooperative study of extracranial cerebral vascular disease until that study was phased out and replaced by the randomized series. Dr. Gurdjian was likewise responsible for leading his ssociates and the department into the cooperative study ofnontraumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage from the inception of the study to its termination.
By 1971, Dr. Gurdjian had authored alone, or in collaboration, 326 papers and publications. He was at that time, the author of two books, one of which had just completed its third edition. He was the editor of numerous compilations and symposia. He pioneered in the concept of collaborative and team research as evidenced by the multiple authors noted on many of his publications. Sixteen residents have completed their training under his direction and more than half hold academic positions, including one departmental chairmanship. In addition, three men have taken their doctorates in bioengineering under Dr. Gurdjian's direction. One of these men, Dr. Voigt R. Hodgson, remained to take charge of the Biomechanics Laboratory of the Department of Neurosurgery at Wayne State University.
Dr. Gurdjian refers to himself as primarily a neurosurgeon and not an administrator. It seems appropriate to allude to his two favorite operative procedures, i.e., trigeminal rhizotomy or decompression and cervical laminectomy. To those of us who trained under him, the ease with which he would gain access to the trigeminal nerve often seemed unbelievable.
In 1933 Dr. Gurdjian married Dorothy Eileen Kratz, his close companion of these many years. Mrs. Gurdjian has fortunately enjoyed the rapidly moving life selected by her husband with its many short trips to this meeting or that meeting. They have four children, one of whom is also a neurosurgeon presently practicing in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Gurdjian is a member of many learned societies, belonging to the Society of Neurological Surgeons, the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the American Neurological Association, the American College of Surgeons and is, of course, a diplomate of the American Board of Neurological Surgery. He served as a member of this Board from 1962 to 1968 and often remarked that this was one of his finest experiences. He served as a consultant for the National Institutes of Health as a member of the Special Projects Committee of the National Heart Institute from 1964 to 1967.
All who trained under his guidance must remember his exhortation that work--hard work--is the best way to solve problems, to cope with sadness or despair, and to curb excessive self-satisfaction. To many of us he was and is like a father--a stern, critical, demanding, self-centered, forgiving, helpful, lovable father. I remember the "Professor" as recently as yesterday and look forward to a host of tomorrows for his criticism, help, counsel, judicious needling, and kind understanding. His influence and counsel will continue, God willing, for years to come.