Dr. Harvey Cushing was given the title of the father of modern neurological surgery as he earned a worldwide reputation in this field, bringing about bold and novel surgical innovations in the field of medicine and surgery. Descending from a long line of medical practitioners, Cushing was always expected to get into a similar field. Many of the tools, techniques and procedures used in the operation theater today are the ones that were developed by Harvey Cushing in the early 19th century. He defied all medical traditions and took control of the most important, functioning system in the human body; the Central Nervous System. He discovered the deadly Cushing’s disease and was also rewarded for his efforts and contribution to surgery and science. The Harvey Cushing Society, a first-of-its-kind, neurosurgical association was set up in honor of the prominent neurosurgeon. With his expertise, innovations and discoveries, Harvey Cushing made Neurology and Neurosurgery one of the most important divisions in medicine all over the world.
Childhood And Early Life
Harvey Williams Cushing was the youngest of ten children born to Bessie Williams and Kirke Cushing on April 8th 1869. The Cushing family had a long list of medical practitioners who were all well-equipped doctors at the time. Harvey’s father, Kirke Cushing, was a physician himself, which is probably how Harvey developed an interest and eagerness towards the subject. In 1891, Harvey graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from one of the Ivy League institutions, Yale University. Later, he opted to study medicine at the Harvard Medical School and earned his M.D degree in the year 1895.
After Cushing graduated from Harvard, he took up an internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital with the hope of studying under big names. Once he completed his internship, he assumed post as a Surgeon in residence at the Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, under the guidance of the eminent William Stewart Halsted. After a short stint at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, he studied cerebral surgery at Bern and Sherrington at Liverpool, under Emil Theodor Kocher. This intrigued him further in the subject of Neurology, and Harvey Cushing began practicing privately in the city of Baltimore.
Around the age of 32, he was made the secondary professor of Surgery at the Johns Hopkins hospital. He slowly transitioned to a position where he governed almost all surgical cases at the hospital and all other cases pertaining to the Central Nervous System. It was at this point of time, when he started writing essays and thesis’s on the Spine and also contributed to the department of bacteriology. During his tenure, he made important suggestions and contributions relating to intra-cerebral pressure and the localization of cerebral components. These theories were developed with the help of Emil Theodor Kocher and Charles Sherrington. While he practiced at Baltimore, he also discovered the method of conducting surgeries and other intricate procedures under the influence of the local anesthesia. The use of local anesthesia rose to prominence after he wrote a dissertation on its effects on hernia. His thesis was well received and Cushing slowly rose to prominence in other parts of the world.
Apart from neurosurgery, Cushing studied the effects of blood pressure and stated its importance during surgery and how it could be regulated. All of his theories and suggestions are put to practice till today. Cushing was appointed as chief surgeon at the Peter Bent Hospital in Boston. His surgical procedures at this hospital, under the influence of anesthesia, became successful and in 1912, he assumed post as a professor of Surgery in the Harvard Medical School.
In the year 1913, Cushing was awarded the prestigious position in the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons by the United Kingdom and Ireland. He was also elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in the following year. It was during this period, he discovered the Cushing’s syndrome that referred to a tumor in the pituitary gland. In 1917-1919, before WWI, Cushing was appointed as the director of the U.S hospital complementary to the British Expeditionary force. He was also given the prestigious rank of ‘Colonel’ at the Army Medical Corps in the United States. His career was accelerating at a surreal pace and Cushing was also contributing heavily to the field of neurology with his research and theses. Towards the end of his career, Cushing was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the Biography or Autobiography category where he wrote about his offerings to medicine and surgery. He was also listed into the Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
Towards the end of his fast-paced career, Harvey Cushing decided to retire and briefly worked at the Yale University School of Medicine. He wrote and discovered the polyglandular syndrome and was also given the title of the ‘father of modern medicine’. He emphasized on the need of the sphygmomanometer that measured the blood pressure levels in the human body during surgery. This was one of his greatest contributions, next only to making neurosurgery a more realistic procedure and at par with the discovery of Cushing’s disease.
Harvey Cushing married Katherine Stone Crowell, his childhood sweetheart, on June 10th, 1902, and they had five children in the following years. Cushing was said to have been very interested in fishing, and his interest grew after he was taken on high school expedition by his teachers to the Great Lakes in 1844. Ever since, Cushing made fishing a hobby and was reportedly seen fishing on countless occasions.
Death And Legacy
Ironically, being a neurosurgeon himself, he succumbed to a brain disorder and died of a cyst in the third ventricle of the brain. Cushing died on October 7th, 1939, at the age of 70. He left behind a rich legacy for his successors and the upcoming generations. At the beginning of the early 20th century, he had already developed primary surgical techniques for the brain and had made full use of state-of-the-art technology such as X-Rays and electric machines to understand the complex aspects of the brain such as the cortex. He stressed on the importance of anesthesia that became a staple practice in medical institutions all over the world. His famous publication ‘the Basophil Adenomas of the Pituitary body and their Clinical Manifestations’ went on to talk about one of his most important discoveries relating to the pituitary glands. Apart from winning countless awards during his lifetime, he was also honored in the year 1988, when the United States Postal service honored his medical contributions by printing mini-sized, 45 cent stamps of him, under the title of some of the ‘Great Americans’. Apart from accolades and appreciations, medical tools discovered by Cushing were also given his name, such as the Cushing’s Forceps, and a separate medical library has been dedicated to Harvey Cushing at the Yale University. His strong dedication and passion for the subject of neurosurgery brought him to the forefront and made him a legendary surgeon during his time.