Albert L. Rhoton, Jr., M.D.
The neurosurgical and neuroanatomical worlds have lost an icon in their fields. The emotion that this loss evokes is similar to what was conjured by Antony as he eulogized Brutus and resonates on this sad occasion:
Here, rather than detailing his awe-inspiring career, as most obituarists do, Dr. Rhoton’s own words are used to describe his field and love, the human brain.
Born in Parvin, Kentucky, Dr. Rhoton recollected that he never dreamed that he would become a neurosurgeon. In fact, he said, “My early life was without exposure to physicians or to hospitals, electricity or other modern conveniences.” “I was unaware that neurosurgery even existed.” In college, he first studied chemistry but missing the human element, began to study social work. However, the lack of touch and working with his hands also lead to disappointment in this field. It was following his observation of brain surgery on an animal that he realized his life’s calling-neurosurgery. This interest never waivered as he worked in a neuroscience laboratory during medical school and completed a neuroanatomical fellowship after medical school.
At the University of Florida, he developed what would become a world renowned training center for neurosurgeons. However, he was not sure that his first surgical course held in the training center would be productive but when he walked into the laboratory on the first day, he found,
Dr. Rhoton’s work on microneurosurgical anatomy
In regard to his monumental 2002 publication based on a career of microneurosurgery, Cranial Anatomy and Surgical Approaches, Dr. Rhoton said, “It represents a 40-plus-years’ attempt to gain an understanding of the anatomy and intricacies of the brain with the goal of improving the safety, gentleness, and accuracy of my operations on my patients.” As a neurosurgeon, Dr. Rhoton wanted to push back the frontiers with the emerging world of microsurgery. He said, “One of my favorite personal goals has been to find images of a single operation performed perfectly, because the inner discipline of striving toward perfection leads to improvement.” He was troubled by what he found to be too many neurosurgical procedures with an unacceptable morbidity. For example, he recalled, “During my training, I did not see a facial nerve preserved during the surgical removal of an acoustic neuroma.”
Dr. Rhoton, over time, discovered,
Dr. Rhoton on the brain
“The brain is the crown jewel of creation and evolution.” “(The) brain accounts for the mind, and through the mind, we are lifted from our immediate circumstances to consciousness and given an awareness of ourselves, our universe, our environment, and even the brain itself.” “The brain is not the seat of the soul, but it is through the brain and mind that we become aware of our souls.”
“Here, in two handfuls of living tissue, we find an ordered complexity sufficient to preserve the record of a lifetime of the richest human experience and create computers that can store amounts of data that can be comprehended only by the mind. Perhaps the most significant achievement of this tissue is the ability, on the one hand, to conceive of a universe more than a billion light-years across and, on the other, to conceptualize a microcosmic world out of the reach of the senses and to model words completely separate from the reality that we can see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. (The) mind and brain are the source of happiness, knowledge and wisdom.”
In conclusion, the following two statements by Dr. Rhoton summarize his commitment to his field and his patients:
“I would like to reflect on the joy and excitement of being allowed to participate in the miracle that we call neurosurgery.” “We share the opportunity to serve people in this unique way, dealing surgically with the most delicate of tissues.”
Seattle Science Foundation
The Rhoton Collection (3D)
The Rhoton Collection is a compilation of anatomy presentations developed by internationally renowned surgeon and educator Dr. Albert Rhoton Jr. These presentations are part of a life's work to train neurosurgeons around the world and expand the knowledge of brain anatomy and microsurgical neurosurgery.