Dr. Ayub Khan Ommaya,
neurosurgeon and inventor of the Ommaya Reservoir, and long time resident of
Bethesda, MD for over 40 years, died Thursday, July 10, 2008, in Islamabad,
Pakistan. The cause of his death was due to complications from Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. Ommaya was born in Pakistan in 1930. He was the national champion swimmer of
Pakistan in 1953 and received the Rhodes Scholarship in 1956. He was a trained
opera singer and well known as the "singing neurosurgeon". He often sang before and
after surgery for the delight of his patients, their families, and hospital staff.
He received his MD at King Edwards Medical College in Pakistan and his MA from
Balliol College, Oxford University in England. During Medical school he trained as
an amateur boxer and at Balliol he was a member of the crew team. Dr. Ommaya was
Chief of Neurosurgery at NINDS, NIH, and Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery at
George Washington University, Washington, DC. Dr. Ommaya developed courses and
lectured on philosophy of mind, theories of consciousness, and the connection
between emotion, religion, and science. Dr. Ommaya vigorously pursued research to
better understand and develop treatments for brain tumors, traumatic brain injury,
Prior to Dr. Ommaya's work in the 60s there was no effective way to deliver
chemotherapy treatments to those with brain tumors. Dr. Ommaya invented the Ommaya
Reservoir to treat patients with aggressive brain cancer; the reservoir was also the
prototype for all medical ports now in use. Dr. Ommaya also developed the
centripetal theory of traumatic brain injury, which allowed for scientific
understanding and modeling of the role of forces and their contribution to injury
and outcome in the brain. His model for brain injury lead to the improved
development of design and safety devices in motor vehicles which have resulted in
reducing injury and preventing death for thousands of individuals world wide.
Until work began in the early 60's by Dr. Ommaya, it was unclear as to how the
results of very different fields of research (neuropathology, engineering, and crash
analysis) should be joined to create a better understanding of traumatic brain
injury prevention and control. Few investigations have bridged the gap among these
disciplines and employed a truly multidisciplinary approach. Dr. Ommaya's work was
instrumental in laying the foundation for injury prevention and improved linkage of
this field to biomechanics.
While the Chief Medical Advisor to the department of transportation in the 1980's,
Dr. Ommaya commissioned a report, Injury in America, from the Institute of Medicine
(IOM) in 1985. This report and efforts by Congressman William Lehman and Dr. Ommaya
lead to the creation of the Center for Disease Control's, National Center for Injury
Prevention and Control which began to provide synthesis, direction, and funding for
the field. Congressman William Lehman and Dr. Ommaya became friends when Dr. Ommaya
cared for his daughter. They had many discussions focusing on the need for a center
that focused injury prevention and research. Congressman Lehman, then chair of the
House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, was responsible for the initial
$10 million awarded to the CDC to establish a new Center for Injury Control.
Because two of his children suffer from type I diabetes, he also conducted research
and developed an artificial organ for diabetes. This device was used successfully
in animals but research progress slowed when Dr. Ommaya started to develop the
symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. He also invented an inflatable collar (like an
airbag) that would attach to motor cycle helmets to protect against spinal injury.
While in practice Dr. Ommaya was consistently ranked as a leading neurosurgeon. He
has published over 200 peer reviewed scientific articles, and the Ommaya reservoir
is widely used in the treatment of brain tumors. Dr. Ommaya was well known for his
friendly and collegial demeanor. Despite being a world renowned neurosurgeon, he
always had time for people who needed assistance, his patients, family, and friends.
He is deeply loved and will be greatly missed.
Dr. Ommaya is survived by his wife, Ghazala N. Ommaya and has 6 children: David,
Alexander, Shana, Aisha, Iman, and Sinan. He is also survived by 3 siblings, Jan,
Jacob and Nadine. He has five grandchildren Jacob, Braden, Henry, Samuel, and
Dr. Ommaya served on the Board of The Wisdom Fund from January 17, 1997 until his
illness forced him to relinquish his position.