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Neurosurgery

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Medicine today is highly specialised. But it took many years before these specialisms were established and during that time the care of many specific conditions has moved from one group of medical professionals to another.

Patients with spinal injury and paralysis - called paraplegia or tetraplegia (quadriplegia) - were generally under the care of orthopaedic surgeons. This was because they had invariably broken a bone in their spine. But they had also damaged the nerves in their spinal cord and could no longer walk as a result of this nerve damage. Confined to bed, they often died from complications such as bedsores and urinary tract infections.

Neurosurgeons treated nerves, not bones, and it was to this specialism that medical officers turned when large numbers of men suffered spinal injury and paralysis in the Second World War. One neurosurgeon in particular, Ludwig Guttmann, devised new ways to treat these patients. He established a Spinal Injuries Unit at Stoke Mandeville and, by using a combination of an active lifestyle, including sport, and the new drug penicillin to combat infection, was able to drastically reduce the death rate among these patients.

 

Related links

Bibliography

S H Greenblatt (ed.), A History of Neurosurgery (Illinois: The American Association of Neurological Surgeons, 1997)

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