We are greatly saddened by the loss of our friend and long-time colleague, Dr. Edgar Housepian. He served on the faculty at Columbia’s Department of Neurosurgery for nearly 60 years, until his death in November.
Last Friday, we hosted an intimate memorial service for him at the Pauline A. Hartford Memorial Chapel near our offices on 168th St. Our current Neurosurgery Chair, Dr. Robert Solomon, who met Dr. Housepian in 1979, gave his eulogy.
“I am glad that everyone could come together today to share our love for Ed Housepian,” said Dr. Solomon.
“Ed was a Columbia guy through and through. He was born in the neighborhood of Columbia University, and essentially never left.
He went to grade school next door to Columbia. He went to Columbia College, Columbia Medical School, general surgery training at Columbia, Neurosurgical Resident training at Columbia, and then became an attending Neurosurgeon at Columbia.”
Dr. Housepian graduated from Columbia College in 1949 and then earned his medical degree from Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1953. During World War II, he had enlisted in the Naval Air Corps intending to become a pilot. Ultimately, however, he chose a career in medicine, following the same path as his father and grandfather.
After joining the Department of Neurosurgery, Dr. Housepian was mentored by the renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. J. Lawrence Pool.
“He was with Larry Pool at the dawn of modern aneurysm surgery, innovating with the early application of microsurgery, developing aneurysm clips, using deep hypothermic circulatory arrest, and even filming an aneurysm operation for the first time through the microscope,” says Dr. Solomon.
“The things that were remarkable about Ed were his compassion for his patients, his commitment to resident education, and his dedication to innovation in neurosurgery.
Ed was an innovator in stereotactic surgery, and was instrumental in establishing the program here at Columbia. In 1986, Ed and I went to visit a young Patrick Kelly at the Mayo Clinic. We learned about his new image guided stereotactic system, and we installed the first image-guided stereotactic system here at Columbia.“
In 1996, Dr. Housepian was given the Columbia Alumni Medal for Distinguished Service. “One of the reasons I’ve loved being at Columbia,” he once said, “is that the institution allowed me to be truly creative.”
“We established the Housepian Chair of Neurosurgery with the help of one of his grateful patients. Even in retirement, Ed brought great honor to our program with his humanitarian work for the Armenian people and the Armenian Church,” says Dr. Solomon. “He was awarded the Humanitarian Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgery in honor of this work.”
In 1988, Armenia was hit by a devastating earthquake that leveled cities and killed tens of thousands of people. Immediately after, Dr. Housepian co-founded the Fund for Armenian Relief (FAR).
He was once again following in his father’s footsteps. In 1916 after Armenia was decimated by a typhoid epidemic, his father, Dr. Moses Housepian, rallied humanitarian aid for the country.
After the 1988 quake, the junior Dr. Housepian organized a phone bank at New York Presbyterian Hospital to raise millions of dollars in medicine and equipment. He then arranged to airlift doctors (including himself) and medical supplies to the country. Dr. Housepian was named “Armenian of the Year” in 1992.
At Columbia, Dr. Housepian was named the Dean’s special advisor for international affiliations. In this position, he created overseas affiliations with students and universities on five continents. Today 60% of Columbia’s medical students take advantage of these educational opportunities. He also helped bring students to Columbia from all over the world.
Later this year, the Fund for Armenian Relief will be naming the National Library of Medicine in Yerevan, Armenia in Dr. Housepian’s honor.
Also this year, Columbia’s IFAP Global Health Program will be sponsoring “The Dr. Edgar M. Housepian Global Health Lecture Series.”
Dr. Housepian died at home on November 14, 2014–he was 86 years old.
He will be missed.
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