‘Pakistani Community Has Lost One of Its Ornaments’
Dr. Ayub Ommaya Passes away


Dr. Ayub Ommaya (R) with Mowahid Shah during happier times

Dr. Ayub Ommaya, who expired in Islamabad on the morning of Friday, July 11, 2008, was, by common consent, one of the greatest doctors produced by Pakistan and one of the world’s leading neurosurgeons.
Born in Mian Channu, Punjab, in 1930 to a Pathan father and a French mother, Ayub was an award-winning medical student at King Edward Medical College, Lahore.  There, apart from his medical studies, Ayub distinguished himself as a champion debater, boxer, and swimmer.  He was among Pakistan’s first Rhode Scholars to Oxford University, where he went to Balliol College.  At Oxford, among other accomplishments, he performed an emergency brain surgery and saved the life of the granddaughter of Baron Rothschild.
When he came to America, Ayub swiftly rose to become the head of the neurosurgery department of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  In his medical career, he wrote over 200 original research papers and was – according to his Oxford mate, Dr. Barry Blumberg, recipient of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Medicine – considered as a Nobel-Prize winning prospect.  Ayub’s innovative and breakthrough tool, a catheter system for delivering anti-cancer drugs to the brain and spinal cord, called the Ommaya Reservoir, has been adopted by doctors all over the world.
Ayub was a multi-talented individual who was called a “Renaissance man” by his fellow Rhodes scholar batch-mate at Oxford, US Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland.  Ayub was an opera singer, an avid reader who maintained one of the best libraries in the area, a movie connoisseur, a gourmet chef, and a much-sought-after guest lecturer around the world.  During complex litigation, Ayub’s expert testimony was instrumental in swaying many a jury during trial proceedings. 
Ayub was also one of the pioneering founding members of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) – the largest overseas Pakistani professional organization. 
Above all, Ayub was a humanist inspired by Sufi teachings, a great friend with unquenchable zest for living, and a sense of humor which made him the life of any gathering. 
In his departure, the Pakistani community has lost one of its ornaments.  He will be widely mourned and missed.  He leaves behind his wife, Ghazali, and 6 children, along with a host of admirers and friends. 
May his soul rest in peace.  -- Mowahid H. Shah
Dr Zafar Iqbal adds: Dr. Alex Ommaya, my colleague at the Veterans Health Administration, conveyed the sad news of  the death of his father, Dr. Ayub Khan Ommaya this afternoon.  May Allah give him a high place in Jannat.
Dr. Ommaya, neurosurgeon and inventor of the Ommaya Reservoir and a resident of Bethesda, MD for over 40 years, died Thursday in Islamabad, Pakistan …  He was a trained opera singer and well known as the "singing neurosurgeon".  He often sang before and after surgery to 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,  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 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 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. 
As 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 Controls, 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 discussed the need for a center that could focus 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 the research undertaking slowed down 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 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 three 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 Alzheimers Association at www.alz.org and specify that they are in memory of Ayub Ommaya.  Alternatively, you could mail a contribution to: Alzheimers Association  225 N. Michigan Ave, 17th Floor, Chicago, IL 60601. 

 

 

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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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