In Memoriam - Ayub Khan Ommaya, Dies at 78
July 12, 2008
Dr. Ayub Khan Ommaya, neurosurgeon and inventor of the Ommaya Reservoir, and
long time resident of Bethesda, MD for over 40 years, died Thursday in
Islamabad, Pakistan. The cause of his death was due to complications from
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, and diabetes.
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 60s 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
1980s, 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 Nicholas.
In lieu of flowers or gifts please send contributions to the Alzheimer's
Association at www.alz.org and please specify in memory of Ayub Ommaya.
Alternatively, you can mail a contribution to: Alzheimer's Association 225 N.
Michigan Ave. 17th Floor Chicago, IL. 60601.
For further information regarding a memorial service please email