Trailblazing Pakistani surgeon dies in US

July 13, 2008


WASHINGTON, July 12: Dr Ayub Khan Ommaya, a neurosurgeon and inventor, has died, his family announced in Washington.

Dr Ommaya, who invented the Ommaya Reservoir was a long time resident of Bethesda, Maryland.He was born in Pakistan in 1930. He was the national champion swimmer in 1953 and received the Rhodes Scholarship in 1956. Dr Ommaya was also a trained opera singer and was known widely as the “singing neurosurgeon”. He often sang before and after surgery for the delight of his patients, their families, and hospital staff.

He received his MBBS from the King Edwards Medical College in Pakistan and his MA from Balliol College, Oxford University in England.

In the medical school he trained as an amateur boxer and at Balliol he was a member of the rowing team.

Dr Ommaya was Chief of Neurosurgery at NINDS, NIH, and Professor of Neurosurgery at George Washington University, Washington, DC.

He developed courses and lectured on philosophy of mind, theories of consciousness, and the connection between emotion, religion, and science.

Dr Ommaya vigorously pursued research to better understand and develop treatments for brain tumours, traumatic brain injury and diabetes.

Before Dr Ommaya’s work in the 60s there was no effective way to deliver chemotherapy treatments to those with brain tumours. He invented the Ommaya Reservoir to treat patients with aggressive brain cancer; the reservoir was also the prototype for all medical ports now in use.

Dr Ommaya also developed the centripetal theory of traumatic brain injury, which allowed for scientific understanding and modelling of the role of forces and their contribution to injury and outcome in the brain.

His model for brain injury led to the improved development of design and safety devices in motor vehicles which have resulted in reducing injury and preventing death for thousands of individuals around the world.

Until he began his work in the early 60s, it was unclear as to how the results of very different fields of research (neuropathology, engineering, and crash analysis) should be joined to create a better understanding of traumatic brain injury prevention and control.

Few investigations have bridged the gap among these disciplines and employed a truly multidisciplinary approach.

Dr Ommaya’s work was instrumental in laying the foundation for injury prevention and improved linkage of this field to biomechanics.

As the chief medical adviser to the department of transportation in the 1980s, Dr Ommaya commissioned a report, Injury in America, from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 1985. This report and efforts by Congressman William Lehman and Dr Ommaya led to the creation of the Centre for Disease Control’s National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control which began to provide synthesis, direction, and funding for the field. Congressman William Lehman and Dr Ommaya became friends when Dr Ommaya cared for his daughter. They had many discussions focusing on the need for a centre that focused on injury prevention and research.

Congressman Lehman, then chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommi-ttee on Transportation, was responsible for the initial $10 million awarded to the CDC to establish a new Centre for Injury Control.

Because two of his children suffer from type I diabetes, he also conducted research and developed an artificial organ for diabetes. This device was used successfully in animals but research progress slowed when Dr Ommaya started to develop the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. He also invented an inflatable collar (like an airbag) that would attach to motorcycle helmets to protect against spinal injury.

While in practice Dr Ommaya was consistently ranked as a leading neurosurgeon. He has published over 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, and the Ommaya reservoir is widely used in the treatment of brain tumours.

Dr Ommaya is survived by his wife, Ghazala N. Ommaya and has six children: David, Alexander, Shana, Aisha, Iman, and Sinan. He is also survived by three siblings, Jan, Jacob and Nadine. He has five grandchildren — Jacob, Braden, Henry, Samuel and Nicholas.