Monday, June 16, 2008

AVM Chance meeting leads to face-saving surgery


Dr. Rick Hodes was used to hearing "no" when he opened his laptop to show brain surgeons pictures of the young Ethiopian woman. An extraordinary case, they would always agree, but there was nothing they could do.

Although he lives and works in Ethiopia, last October Hodes was in town for a fundraiser and stopped at a St. Louis Park synagogue to pray. He started chatting with Dr. Eric Nussbaum, who was there studying with the rabbi.

"Let me show you some of my cases," Hodes said, as he always does when he meets someone who might be able to help the young Muslim woman with the carefully arranged headscarf pictured on his laptop screen. Those around them who weren't doctors recoiled at the photo. But Nussbaum was fascinated.

By chance, Hodes had bumped into one of the few people on Earth who could the do the brain surgery this young woman needed.

In a way, Nussbaum had worked his whole life toward this moment. It was why he left the University of Minnesota to set up shop in little St. Joseph's Hospital in St. Paul, which was on the brink of closing.

It was why he established a super-sub-medical specialty center for complex brain surgeries that is now gaining a national reputation. It is why he wears a beeper and rarely takes a vacation.

When he saw the photographs in the dim light of Bais Yisroel synagogue, he was ready.

"We could take care of this," he told Hodes.

A rare specialty

Nussbaum, 40, is a rare neurosurgeon, an expert in the brain's blood vessels and benign tumors that originate below the brain in the skull.

"Ninety percent of neurosurgeons do spines," he said. "I don't."

His uncle is the same kind of surgeon. As a child growing up in Maryland and New York, he always wanted to be like that uncle.

Nussbaum came to the University of Minnesota hoping to do the work he loves -- repairing gossamer-thin blood vessels and delicately dissecting out tumors. But he was expected to do all kinds of neurosurgery there

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