Ayub Ommaya (1930-2008)
In celebration of Asian Heritage Month, I thought it would be fitting to share the story of the “Singing Neurosurgeon:” one man who not only revolutionized studies on brain injury in the United States, but shaped the future of brain cancer treatment worldwide.
I wish to share the story of Dr. Ayub Ommaya, a Pakistani-American neurosurgeon who is best known for his invention of the Ommaya reservoir. He studied medicine in Lahore, Pakistan before securing a scholarship to Balliol College at Oxford University. Dr. Ommaya then immigrated to the United States and became a U.S. citizen in 1967.
From his days at Oxford, Dr. Ommaya developed an interest in studying traumatic brain injury, and his work ultimately led to the creation of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. His groundbreaking Ommaya reservoir, a catheter system that directly administers chemotherapy to tumor sites in the brain, is used to this day. Prior to his work, there was no effective way to deliver such treatment. In fact, the reservoir was also the prototype for all modern medical ports and is just one of Dr. Ommaya’s contributions to the scientific world amongst over 150 articles, chapters, and books he has published.
Trained in opera, Dr. Ommaya also became fondly known for singing (much to the joy of his patients) prior to and post-surgery. I can only imagine the comfort and delight he brought to what otherwise must have been a bleak and sterile environment.
Dr. Ommaya’s story is a testament to the fact that one can pursue a variety of interests and mustn't limit themselves to any one thing— He even excelled in debate and rowing (oh, and he was also champion boxer and swimmer).
This month, I hope we can all remember the “Singing Neurosurgeon,” who is just one of the many Asian-Americans who have dedicated their lives to progress in their fields in the hope of a better future.
Author: Sara Rizwan
In Honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
We are bringing you the stories of inspirational Asian Americans from history.
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5/17/20 - The Courageous Stand of Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo
5/16/20 - The Unbreakable Spirit of Wong Kim Ark
5/15/20- The Admirable Perseverance of Patsy Takemoto Mink
5/13/20 - The Lasting Legacy of Grace Lee Boggs
5/12/20-Remembering "The Forgotten" -- The Chinese migrants who built America's first Transcontinental railroad
5/11/20 - The Singing Neurosurgeon: Dr. Ayub Ommaya