News & Press: Interviews

Get to Know ... David Adelson

Wednesday 14 December 2016  
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Get to Know ... David Adelson




P. David Adelson MD, FACS, FAAP, is the director of Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital and chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Phoenix Children's Hospital and holds the Diane and Bruce Halle Endowed Chair in Pediatric Neurosciences. He is a Professor of Neurosurgery at University of Arizona College of Medicine- Phoenix and Mayo Clinic and Biological Systems and Health Systems Engineering, Arizona State University. He is also a past president of the CNS and has held numerous responsibilities with both the CNS and the AANS.


He is well known in the EANS community, an extremely popular member of faculty at so many TCs, and of course as a speaker at many EANS meetings.


Last – but not least – our sincere congratulations: David Adelson is the winner of this year's Herbert Olivecrona Award, in recognition of his significant clinical research contributions to the field of pediatric neurosurgery and, in particular, pediatric traumatic brain injury. He will give the 36th Annual Herbert Olivecrona Lecture, "Shifting Paradigm for Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury Management: An Individualized Approach, Present and Future" on 16 December 2016 in Stockholm, Sweden.



~ Holiday: beach / countryside / culture / other?

I always enjoy holidays at the beach for relaxation, especially with the family. I also enjoy being out in the outdoors in the woods, camping, hiking, canoeing, etc., which I like to do every year when a friend and I get "off the grid".



~ The wisest thing anybody every told you

When I was in medical school, I was doing a rotation with a general surgeon. It was late one evening, we were both tired but we were finishing up rounding on an elderly patient.


She had a lovely bouquet of roses at her bedside. Before leaving, he stopped us both, and said, "Sometimes you just need to stop and smell the roses!" We smelled the roses and moved on. One month later he was diagnosed with a GBM and passed away a little over a year later. Every moment we have is precious. Live in the moment.



~What book is on your bedside table (or Kindle) at the moment?

I am really bad this way. I have a number of books that I read at the same time depending on mood. I am reading a couple of biographies: one about Alexander Hamilton, one of the original founding fathers of our government and the other entitled "The Greatest Knight", about William Marshall who lived during the 12th and 13th Century in Britain and Europe. I am also reading "When Breath Becomes Air" by Paul Kalanithi and "Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think" by VM Schonberger.



~ List your favorites – pick a few from: book, movie or play, quote, poem, website, city, type of food or individual dish, music genre, song, band or individual musician, board game, etc.


Book:  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Movie:   Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (the original and most unforgettable at the time) though I still count Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa as one of my all-time favorites.

Music:  Blues

Musician/Poet:   Bob Dylan

Food: When out with friends, any type

Quote:Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” -  Theodore Roosevelt



~Where did you grow up?

While I was born in Queens, NY, one of the boroughs of New York City, we moved around until I was 4 years old. After that, I grew up in eastern Long Island which is about 150 km from Manhattan/New York City. It was a very rural area when I was growing up with lots of farmland and woods all around.



~ Neurosurgical inspiration?

To me, it is the children with these horrible and complex neurological problems that need neurosurgery that continue to inspire me each and every day. It is amazing to me how they just want to move beyond the pain and discomfort of their disease and surgery and just get back to playing and learning. They are truly a shining example.



~ Your best / worst / most embarrassing moment as a neurosurgeon?

Best:  There was a teenager who I operated on with a large craniopharyngioma. He did well though he did have pan hypopituitarism postoperatively. He grew up, went to medical school, became a doctor (Family Practice), got married, and recently had a son. It does not get better than that.


Worst: Early in my training, a young man was found at the side of the road near his bike with a bad brain injury. He came in initially as a Glasgow Coma Score of 7 but developed severe intractable intracranial hypertension. Despite maximal measures available to us, he eventually passed away. I remember his parents because they reminded me of mine. I think that case was what pushed me toward my interest in traumatic brain injury.


Embarrassing:  I could not think of a specific moment that I was embarrassed as a neurosurgeon other than that I am terrible with names and even introduce people I have known for 20 years by the wrong name.



~ “If I knew then what I know now” – advice for today’s neurosurgical trainees:

Stop and Smell the Roses! (see above)



~ If you hadn’t been a neurosurgeon …?

I would have likely become a neuroscientist. There is too much about neuroscience that I find fascinating, interesting and am passionate about that I would have wanted to continue to explore and answer important neuroscience questions. My biggest fear for my professional life was being bored. I don't think that there is any aspect of neuroscience and neuroscience research that could potentially lead to boredom throughout a career.



~ What are your thoughts about neurosurgeons doing research?

I believe that research should be a part of every neurosurgeon's day-to-day work throughout their career. Every day we encounter unique problems and as neurosurgeons and physicians, we come up with solutions that sometimes succeed and sometimes fail. The only way that we as neurosurgeons get better beyond ourselves is if we disseminate that information to others in our profession; the more we disseminate, the quicker the improvement.


It should start during training where research training should be essential to be proficient in being able to ask questions, develop the methods to answer those questions, collate and analyze the results, and then report those results to others through presentation or through publication.


Obviously there is a difference in the intensity and level of research after residency between those that will go on to pursue an academic scientific career vs. those neurosurgeons that are practicing in the community. I still feel that it is important that those neurosurgeons practicing in the community who have so much information and experience/expertise that it is a shame to lose the opportunity to share their valuable insight before that person retires and experience is lost. Prospectively collected data on surgeries, clinical management, and outcomes by all would be a valuable source of information and expertise for future generations of neurosurgeons.



~ Tell us a little about your involvement with organized neurosurgery and with the EANS?

I believe that it is important to give back. To me neurosurgery has truly enriched my life and the profession needs people to get involved and volunteer at all different levels for education, for science, for research, for socio-political, etc.


I felt personally that I wanted to be involved and I was fortunate in that one of my partners in Pittsburgh was involved with the Executive Committee of the Joint Section on Neurotrauma and Neuro Critical Care for the AANS/CNS. I then worked my way up through the section through different committees, particularly teaching the practical courses, breakfast and luncheon seminars, and volunteered for helping on the scientific programs for the annual meetings to be developed for both AANS and CNS. I then was elected and then held a number of positions working on several initiatives on the executive committee for the CNS before eventually becoming President. Since then I have worked with the AANS in a number of capacities including the scientific program and annual meeting, as well as their international efforts and the WFNS.


During my Presidency of the CNS, part of our goal was to improve our relationships with other neurosurgical societies. I was fortunate to get to know other neurosurgical leaders and individuals throughout the world. During this time I had been asked to speak at a number of European Society meetings and got to know and become friends with some of the individuals involved in these organizations.  After I finished up as President, I was then asked by the CNS to facilitate the relationship and a partnership with the EANS for teaching of trainees.


I have had the honor and pleasure to be a part of the EANS training courses since 2011. I feel that I have learned as much if not more as I have taught because of the great faculty throughout the EANS and the trainees that come to these courses with such energy and willingness to learn. It has been a wonderful experience and I have developed wonderful friendships that truly enrich my life.