Brain surgery, science and education

As a pediatric neurosurgeon, neuroscientist, and educator, I come across many interesting bits of information and wonderful people. I will try to share some of this with you here. While the site draws heavily from my experiences as the Campagna Chair of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Oregon Health & Science University, and head of neurosurgery at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, this is a personal blog. My thanks to my wonderful OHSU colleagues, who share this exciting and rewarding work with me.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Looking Back, Reaching Forward

In the United States, July is a time for celebrating heritage. In Oregon and Southwest Washington, the Scottish community comes together every year on the 3rd Saturday at the Portland Highland Games. Today’s games, the 60th, hark back to clan celebrations in the highlands a thousand years ago.

Around the world, the games today promote heritage and preserve the Scottish arts of piping, drumming, dancing and heavy sports. The games embody tradition, competition, and community.

Scots in America have contributed greatly to our larger national community, part of a tradition that has enabled the exceptional contributions of our society to the arts and sciences, and to the advancement of freedom around the world. Many cultures and societies have contributed to this unprecedented American success, and more are joining the ‘great experiment’ every year. The only invariable characteristics and requirements for participation are devotion to intellectual, political, and economic freedom.

Highland games also remind us of the tremendous contributions of Scots to American and world society. No fewer than nine Scots are amongst the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence. Among them was Rev. John Witherspoon, who immigrated to New Jersey from Edinburgh, and served as the first President of Princeton University.

The foundations of modern society are inextricably linked to Scots, both at home and in the Scottish diaspora around the world. Carnegie and dozens of other Scots were central to the advances of the industrial revolution. Malthus and other Scottish philosophers created entire fields of modern thought. Neil Armstrong (a humble and brave pilot I had the privilege of spending time with when his son and I were classmates and dorm mates at Stanford) was the first human being to walk upon another world.

Modern medicine was largely invented and for 150 years found its greatest expression in the medical schools of Edinburgh and Glasgow. We think of my field, neurosurgery, as being founded by British and American surgeons, such as Victor Horsley and Harvey Cushing. In reality, the daring Scottish surgeon Sir William Macewen was the the true pioneer of modern neurosurgery. In 1876, Macewen operated on a young woman with right sided motor seizures based on clinical findings alone, identifying and removing a left frontal meningioma and granting her 8 further years of useful life. This was the first successful craniotomy for a non-traumatic, intracranial process in history.

By ancestry, I am not a Scot. My progenitors hail from the Welsh borders of England (where, generations ago, they were weavers), and Germany. Through my children, though, I have developed a love for the Scottish culture and people, and in the tradition of American and Scottish inclusiveness, count myself amongst them. My wife’s ancestors, the McIlrath’s, were artists and warriors from the western isles, allied to the MacDonald Clan. Their ancestral homelands are among the most beautiful places on earth (and not dissimilar to Oregon, where many Scots including the “founder of Oregon,” Dr. John McLoughlin, have settled).

So it is with considerable pleasure that I joined 10,000 or so of my compatriots at the Portland Games today. It was also with great pride that I watched my daughters compete in the highland dances and my son in highland bagpipes.

Scots promote tradition, competition and community. They welcome us to their grand tradition. They remind us how a great nation was built.

Scottish Highland Bagpipes (Playing a 2-4 March for the Judges)

Scottish Highland Dancing

Scottish National Dancing

500 Scottish Highland Pipers and Drummers Thunder Forward in a "Massed Band" at the 2012 Portland Highland Games!

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