William P. Van Wagenen, MD
WILLIAM P. VAN WAGENEN was born on May 24, 1897, at Nunda, New York, William P. Van Wagenen moved at an early age with his parents to a farm at Worcester, New York. Science classes of high school activated an inner ferment, bringing recognition from the school principal and encouragement to try for a New York State College scholarship. Success in this competition gave the basis for the move to Cornell and the continued series of events leading to training with Dr. Harvey Cushing, and eventually a prominent place in the new world of neurosurgery.
Graduation from Cornell in 1918, was followed by a brief interval of military service. He received his medical degree from Harvard University in June, 1922. Postgraduate training included internship at the Memorial Hospital in New York City, the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, residency in surgery at the Memorial Hospital, in New York, and, beginning December 1925, residency with Dr. Harvey Cushing in neurosurgery. Subsequent training included residency at the Rochester General Hospital and a fellowship in Munich, Germany. In July, 1928, Dr. Van Wagenen began his appointment as Assistant Professor in Neurosurgery, Chief of the Neurosurgical Service at the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.
Investigative work came naturally to William P. Van Wagenen. At the Memorial Hospital in New York, he worked with Dr. John Rhodes in outlining the origin of the meningioma from the arachnoidal cell. He reviewed the craniotomies at the Brigham, and reported the accuracy of air studies in localizing cerebral lesions. He devised surgical techniques for approaches to obscure portions of the cerebral anatomy-choroid plexus, third ventricle, corpus callosum. In 1931, he conceived the idea of a brain tumor registry.
Dr. Van Wagenen was elected the first president of the Harvey Cushing Society (in the 1930s). With the outbreak of World War II, he was asked to head one of the original neurosurgical services being established in the hospitals of the U.S. Army Medical Corps. He was appointed to Lawson General Hospital at Atlanta, Georgia, with the rank of Major (1942), and moved to the Cushing General Hospital in 1944, as Chief of the newly established Neurosurgical Unit. He joined with Dr. Frederick Lewey in publishing the
Cushing General Hospital Regime for Treatment of Peripheral Nerve Injuries
. He was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel. At the end of the war, he returned to his position as Chief of the Neurosurgical Service at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The post-war era brought renewed interest in scientific publications and an active role as an Area Consultant in the Veterans’ Administration Hospitals. In 1954, he decided to retire from active practice. His wife, Abigail Roberts Van Wagenen, whom he married in 1930, was his constant companion and inspiration.
On August 7, 1961, he died suddenly from acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis. This man of ideas and ideals, peer of intellect, with mastery of humor, established tradition in the highest level of the academic sphere, and gained the lasting respect of those who knew him.
One of the most coveted awards in the field of neurosurgery, "The Van Wagenen Award," is given annually by his wife Abigail in his honor.
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