Monday, 20 August 2012

IMFW: Harvey Cushing

This week's IMFW is really more like an IMPW - an Interesting Medical Person of the Week. Harvey Williams Cushing is often regarded as the "father of modern neurosurgery".

An American descended from a long line of doctors, he was born in Ohio in 1869. After studying medicine, he went on to study surgery at the famous Johns Hopkins Hospital just after it had opened, then spent time in Europe before returning to Johns Hopkins as an associate professor in surgery. As well as writing about medicine, he was a talented medical illustrator and several of his drawings were published in textbooks - and as if that wasn't enough, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Biography for his biography of his mentor, William Osler.

Cushing's first monograph was on the subject of the pituitary, and on this blog, you'll have heard Cushing's name from one of his most famous discoveries, the disease named after him - Cushing's Disease; a tumour of the pituitary gland which secretes ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) and causes a range of symptoms including weight gain, bruising, sweating, high blood pressure and diabetes. Being a modest chap, he had originally named it "polyglandular syndrome", but his name stuck. However, this was far from his only contribution to medicine:

- He introduced blood pressure measurement to America

- He used x-rays to diagnose brain tumours

- He developed medical instruments which are still in use today, including the Cushing Forcep which is used during cranial surgery, the Cushing clip - a small clip for blood vessels to stop bleeding during surgery, which dramatically decreased mortality rates - and the use of electrocautery which he developed with W.T. Bovie, a physicist

- Along with a colleague, Ernest Codman, Cushing devised the first anaesthetic chart to help surgeons and anaesthetists monitor pulse, temperature and breathing - an innovation which was widely adoped

- Cushing pioneered many new surgical techniques including the use of saline for irrigation during surgery

- He developed a surgical cure for trigeminal neuralgia

- His mortality rate was around 10% - which doesn't sound hugely impressive until you realise that before he came along, mortality rates from neurosurgery were 50 - 90% depending on which source you believe

- He developed the transsphenoidal approach for surgery of the pituitary gland

- He invented the macarena (just checking you're paying attention...)

- He identified and named the phenomena of hypopituitarism and hyperpituitarism

Yes... yes, that is a skull.
 So Mr Harvey Williams Cushing deserves our gratitude and respect. He has thoroughly earned the bewildering array of unpleasant medical things named after him, which include: Cushing's Syndrome, Cushing's Disease, Cushing's symphalangism (a.k.a. proximal symphalangism), Cushing's Reflex resulting in Cushing's Triad (a nervous system response to increase intracranial pressure), Cushing ulcer a.k.a. Rokitansky-Cushing Syndrome, Bailey-Cushing Syndrome (he had to share that one), the Cushing forcep and Cushing clip.

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