Dr. Ayub Khan Ommaya, neurosurgeon and inventor of the Ommaya Reservoir, and longtime resident of Bethesda, MD for over 40 years, died July 11th, 2008 in Islamabad, Pakistan. Dr. Ommaya attempted to return to Pakistan after his neurological training at Balliol College, Oxford University.  However, he was told that he was unqualified when he applied to King Edward Medical College (where he trained).  He then came to the US at the urging of his friend in 1960.  He developed the Ommaya reservoir one year after arriving in the US.  This device and his subsequent work in traumatic brain injury benefited many people around the world including many Pakistanis.  He often traveled to Pakistan to provide free care to those in need. 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 a 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 leads 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 worldwide.

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 on 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 motorcycle helmets to protect against spinal injury.

While in practice Dr. Ommaya was consistently ranked as a leading neurosurgeon. He has published over 150 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.

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