Amongst the invited lecturers who have given of their time to address this conference we are privileged to have three individuals of standing in the field of syringomyelia and Chiari, who have each kindly agreed to deliver one of our three eponymous lectures. To accompany these lectures we provide the following eulogies
Edward H Oldfield, MD was a highly creative and productive neuroscientist and neurosurgeon, leading research programs that changed the modern surgical treatment of patients with pituitary tumours in Cushing’s disease, with brain and spinal cord tumours in von Hippel-Lindau disease, and with spinal arteriovenous malformations.
Oldfield completed two years of surgical residency training at Vanderbilt University, before spending a year as a visiting registrar in Neurology and Neurosurgery at the National Hospital for Nervous Disease in Queen Square, London, England. He then completed neurosurgical residency training at Vanderbilt University. He spent a year in the private practice of medicine before coming to the National Institutes of Health in 1981. He spent most of his research career there, in the Surgical Neurology Branch, the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke. He started as a senior staff fellow, became chief of the clinical neurosurgery section in 1984, and served as chief of the surgical neurology branch from 1986 until 2007. He received the Public Health Superior Service Award in 1991, for successfully managing the surgical neurology branch, training academic neurosurgeons and advancing the understanding of the biology of brain tumours. He retired from full-time government service in 2007 to become the Crutchfield Chair in Neurosurgery and Professor of Neurosurgery and Internal Medicine at the University of Virginia.
Among his many research accomplishments, Oldfield’s research led to new insights into how Chiari I malformation causes syringomyelia. He developed a new drug-delivery technique, called convection-enhanced delivery, for treatment of central nervous system diseases, including brain tumours, Parkinson’s disease, and lysosomal storage diseases. His laboratory developed gene therapy for malignant brain tumours. He directed the first clinical trial of gene therapy within the central nervous system. He discovered that reduced nitric oxide around cerebral arteries produced cerebral vasospasm after aneurysmal subarachnoid haemorrhage. He followed-up this finding with clinical trials of novel agents treating cerebral vasospasm.
Oldfield was a highly acclaimed academic neurosurgeon, serving on the editorial boards of prominent neurosurgical journals, including as co-chairman of the Journal of Neurosurgery, from 2001 to 2002, and associate editor from 2009. He served as the vice-president and president of the Society of Neurological Surgeons and received the Grass Medal for Meritorious Research in Neurological Science, from that organization. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons awarded him the Farber Award for his brain tumour research, the Harvey Cushing Medal (its highest honour) for “his many years of outstanding leadership, dedication, and contributions to the field of neurosurgery” and the Cushing Award for Technical Excellence and Innovation in Neurosurgery. The University of Kentucky Medical Alumni Association recognized him as “the quintessential clinical-scientist” who made “remarkable contributions to the understanding of the nervous system and the practice of neurosurgery.”
Dr Oldfield authored over 500 scientific and clinical articles and was co-inventor of patents on convection-enhanced drug delivery and genetic therapy. He fostered the career development of his fellows and other trainees, many of whom achieved tenured positions and chairmanships in neurosurgery departments in the United States and internationally.
Dr Oldfield is survived by his devoted wife, Susan (Wachs), and his loving daughter Caroline. His family welcomed colleagues and trainees to their home, creating life-long friendships that extended beyond science and medicine. His family, friends, professional colleagues, and patients will miss his kindness, advice, concern, and care.
Bernard Williams was born in 1932, in a place called Stockport, not far from the city of Manchester, in the north of England. He studied medicine in Birmingham, qualifying in 1955. After military service he began his training in neurosurgery, initially at the National Hospital, London and then in Birmingham once more. His first consultant post was back up in the north of the country, in the city of Hull, lying on the Humber estuary. He worked there for three years, before returning to the English Midlands, to take up a post at the Midland Centre for Neurosurgery and Neurology, situated in the town of Smethwick, in the Black Country, adjacent to the Greater Birmingham conurbation. He continued to work there until his untimely death in 1995, at the age of 63.
Bernard first became interested in the condition of syringomyelia during his training. He subsequently carried out pioneering research into the condition, publishing seminal papers and establishing an international reputation in the field. He remained fascinated by the condition throughout his career. He is still quoted widely in neurosurgical literature. He also made important contributions to our understanding of other disorders of cerebrospinal fluid circulation, as well as other neurosurgical diseases. His work was recognised by the award of the Cassey-Holter memorial prize, in 1977 and the Pudenz prize in 1994. He received further honours from the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Bernard Williams possessed a remarkable intelligence, despite which he remained a modest, often self-effacing person, with no hint of arrogance or pomposity. He encouraged students and young doctors to see the fascination in clinical neurological science and to share his enthusiasm for this field. He had an open-minded approach to whatever subject he considered and was always completely honest in what he said. When operating he paid meticulous attention to detail. When results were not as good he wanted he would agonise over the reasons and always seek to improve himself.
Outside the world of neurosurgery, Bernard Williams had a passion for the game of chess, a talent supported by his extraordinary memory. It was therefore very fitting that his widow chose a chess piece as the headstone for his grave. Bernard died riding his motorbike, a victim of the impetuous haste of morning rush-hour traffic. Bernard left behind him four children by his first marriage and two from his second. There are also many of his former patients who remember him with fondness and gratitude. So too do many neurosurgeons who trained under his direction. There are no lengthy, wordy inscriptions on his grave, just his dates, preceded by what he wrote at the bottom of any letters - “Bernard Williams, Neurosurgeon”.
Ann Conroy was born in 1943, in the city of Leicester, in the English Midlands. She developed scoliosis in her teens but, in the pre-MRI era, her syringomyelia was not diagnosed until she was in her early thirties. She underwent surgery for the underlying hindbrain hernia shortly afterwards. Although improved after the operation, Ann remained crippled but bore this burden with fortitude and without complaint, preferring instead to get on with life as best she could.
I did not have the privilege of knowing Ann but I recall Bernard Williams talking about her. He described a remarkable and energetic lady who, despite having very significant neurological disabilities, was determined to set-up an organisation that would help others who also suffered from syringomyelia. Ann, it would seem, was impressed by two things. One was the seeming lack of knowledge about or understanding of syringomyelia and Chiari amongst health care professionals, including neurologists and neurosurgeons. The other was Bernard Williams and the dedication that he applied in attempting to understand and treat syringomyelia. Crippled though she was, as a result of her condition, Ann set about founding the charity which now bears her name. Her aims were to fund Bernard’s continuing work and to provide support for other people affected by these conditions.
From its foundation, as “Ann’s Neurological Trust Society”, the now re-named Ann Conroy Trust has developed, over the past 40 years, into a highly successful support organisation for people living with syringomyelia or Chiari. It has also organised teaching events for health-care professionals, both at a national and an international level. It supported the creation and publication, in 2014, of the monograph entitled “Syringomyelia: a disorder of CSF circulation”. In this volume is a chapter entitled “Historical vignettes”. The account therein of Ann Conroy’s life was derived from a eulogy written about her, following her death in 1992, by Bernard Williams. His final sentence reads: “She may not ever have been able to work or to marry or to bear children and she may never have travelled far in her lifetime, but the journey of her spirit was immense. The work that she began will surely continue”.
Continue it does, with Syringomyelia-Chiari 2018.
The symposium is co-organised by The Ann Conroy Trust, in association with Aesculap Academia.
The Ann Conroy Trust is Registered Charity No: 1165808.
We provide Support, Education and Research for patients living with Chiari Malformation, Syringomyelia and associated conditions.