Yesterday, today and tomorrow we celebrate the memory of W. James Gardner and the neurosurgical training program that he founded. Dr. Gardner joined the staff of the Cleveland Clinic in October 1929, just two days after the infamous stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. He was not the Clinic’s first neurosurgeon, however; that honor went to Dr. Charles E. Locke, who joined the Clinic in 1924, just three years after it had been founded. Tragically Dr. Locke was killed at the age of 33 in the Clinic disaster of May 15, 1929.
At that time Dr. Gardner was being trained in neurosurgery by Dr. Charles Frazier at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Gardner had intended to follow in his father’s footsteps by pursuing training as a General surgeon. However, as an intern he rotated on Dr. Frazier’s service at a time when there were no senior assistants, leaving Gardner as the professor’s sole support. Gardner took to neurosurgery, enlisted for an additional three months and then a life-long career.
While a resident he did considerable research including the effect of various substance on intracranial pressure and a comprehensive review of a family from Pennsylvania with hereditary bilateral acoustic neuromas. This investigative bent characterized his entire career; however, his drive and motivation in research were always steered by what possible benefit it may provide the patient – what we today call clinically relevant research.
Gardner continued his training until recruited by the clinic in 1929. He established the Clinic’s neurosurgical training program and he was considered a stern taskmaster - not only for residents but for himself as well. He often stated that "neurosurgery is a jealous mistress" and believed that the word "resident" should be taken literally - that trainees should live in the hospital. He believed that "the way to learn neurosurgery is to care for neurosurgical patients" which expressed his disdain for programs that attempted to train neurosurgeons didactically but with scant clinical material.
Dr. Gardner believed that being a surgeon offered the unique opportunity to see pathology in the living state. Observations at the operating room table joined with his other knowledge led to the Gardner theory of hydromyelia and its relationship to hindbrain malformations. He was a strong proponent of the Cleveland Clinic model of a multidisciplinary group practice, often collaborating with other staff in his investigations and sharing credit for this work.
Author or co-author of over 250 scientific papers, Gardner's contributions and inventions include the Gardner chair, the G-suit, the alternating pressure pad, induced hypotension for surgery of aneurysms and tumors, the surgical treatment of trigeminal neuralgia and hemifacial spasm, the investigation and treatment of Chiari malformations and the use of sympathectomy for various disorders.
Gardner was a great teacher, usually by example and by discussion at conference. When awarded the Cushing medal in 1982 by the AANS, he stated in his acceptance speech that, "In forty years of practice, I had the privilege of training almost that number of residents in neurosurgical techniques and the satisfaction of observing their subsequent progress. That constitutes a teacher’s greatest reward."
Gardner established life-long relationships with his residents and he remained interested in their careers. He liked to refer to his fellow as "my boys" and they liked to refer to him, out of hearing, as "the Boss." He enjoyed activities such as ice skating, tennis and hunting and loved barbershop quartetting. He had a quixotic sense of humor as illustrated by his autographed photo of "Dr. Ben Casey," a television neurosurgeon of the 1960s. The woman at his side was the other love of his life, his wife Annie.
Gardner’s membership on the staff as Chief of Neurosurgery was from 1929 to 1964 when mandatory retirement led him to enter private practice with some of his former residents in Cleveland. He rejoined the Cleveland Clinic staff in 1974 at the newly created Emeritus position which he held till his death on January 29, 1987.
The tradition of clinical, research and academic excellence established by Dr. Gardner continues as part of the mission of this department.
For more information, refer to the article below
W. James Gardner: pioneer neurosurgeon and inventor
J. Neurosurg 100:965-973, 2004