Oct. 6, 2008 | The first time Anton Valavanis, M.D., tried to visit the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) to speak, he braved an icy taxi ride from Dallas to Little Rock only to find the event had been cancelled by the ice storm of 2000.
On Sept. 26, there was no ice to prevent the internationally known neuroradiologist from returning to UAMS to deliver the inaugural M. Gazi and Dianne C.H. Yaşargil Lecture at the UAMS Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.
The event drew neurosurgeons and health care professionals from across the region to hear his presentation, “Advances in Endovascular Treatment of Vascular and Neoplastic Lesions of the Central Nervous System.”
“This is a very special moment for me and a great honor to have been selected to deliver the inaugural lecture for my teacher, Dr. Yaşargil,” Valavanis said. “He opened in my soul and in my mind avenues that I have followed all of my life.”
Yaşargil, who joined the UAMS faculty in 1994, pioneered microneurosurgery (in which the surgeon uses the microscope as a navigational tool to explore delicate brain tissue) during the 1960s. Valavanis said he adopted three fundamental messages from his former teacher that guided him over the years to numerous advances using microsurgical techniques to treat brain aneurysms, malformations and tumors.
First, building on the maxim from the classic Hippocratic Oath to which physicians adhere, Valavanis strives to at least “do no harm” while at most seeking to cure.
He said he believes “the entire brain is eloquent,” meaning it is all critical to how an individual interacts and processes the world via senses, communication, etc. Valavanis said previously some physicians had divided the brain into eloquent and non-eloquent areas.
Third, Valavanis said he strives to be self-critical with his results. He said this drives him to constantly strive to improve his techniques and surgical outcomes.
Discussing his treatment of anterior vascular malformations (AVMs), aneurysms and intracranial tumors using microsurgical techniques, Valavanis said he has achieved better outcomes compared to traditional treatments. The evolving understanding of the brain’s anatomy through the years, he said, has allowed more precise treatment using microneurosurgery.
“This is an important, unique moment in neurosurgery,” Valavanis said, citing the understanding that each brain has its own recovery capacity, and individualized treatments are now more possible than ever.
Valavanis began studying under Yaşargil at the University Hospital of Zurich during the late 1970s. Today, he is a professor and chairman of the Institute of Neuroradiology at the University Hospital of Zurich.
Valavanis also is a founding member and chair of the governing council of Clinical Neuroscience Center at the University Hospital of Zurich. In addition, he has received honorary professorships from Roosevelt Hospital in New York and China International Neuroscience Institute at Capital University of Medical Science in Beijing.
Yaşargil was named “Man of the Century 1950-1999” by the Congress of Neurological Surgeons for his extraordinary body of work, including development of several tools used by neurosurgeons for microneurosurgery. He designed a revolutionary floating microscope equipped with both a hand switch and mouth switch that would free the surgeon’s hands when necessary.
Over the years, Yaşargil continued to design many operating room implements. Several of his latest innovations were incorporated into the Yaşargil Microsurgery Laboratory at the Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute.
The lectureship was made possible by contributions to the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute. It will improve health care, research and education by allowing the invitation of accomplished individuals in the field of the neurosciences to lecture at UAMS.
The lectureship is named for Yaşargil and his wife, Dianne, a nurse who developed a method of organizing surgical instruments into sets for different types of neurosurgery and has perfected a system for preparing, handling, collecting and cleaning the instruments. She went on to found the European Association of Neuroscience Nurses. The Yaşargils have been a team for 40 years.