Emergency suboccipital decompression for respiratory arrest during supratentorial surgery: The untold story of a surgeon's courage in times of despair - Historical vignette

Beth Ann Shelton, Edward O'Hara, R. Shane Tubbs, Mohammadali Mohajel Shoja, Fred G. Barker, Aaron A. Cohen-Gadol

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


The odyssey leading to the discovery of herniation syndromes was prolonged due to a lack of early understanding of the underlying pathophysiology. In 1896, Leonard Hill documented transtentorial pressure gradients as the intervening phenomenon involved in uncal herniation. In 1904, James Collier became the first to describe cerebellar tonsillar herniation as a "false localizing sign" often associated with intracranial tumors. During the infancy of neurological surgery, management of increased intracranial pressure and an improved understanding of brain herniation syndromes were of the utmost importance in achieving a safe technique. Harvey Cushing provided seminal contributions in understanding the pathophysiology of increased intracranial pressure and resulting cardiopulmonary effects. Cushing believed that tonsillar herniation was a cause of acute cardiorespiratory compromise in patients with intracranial tumors. In this vignette, we describe the untold story of Cushing's heroic attempt to treat respiratory arrest operatively during supratentorial tumor surgery with an emergency suboccipital craniectomy to relieve the medullary dysfunction that he believed was caused by compression from tonsillar herniation. This case illustrates a surgeon's determination and courage in fighting for his patient's life in the most desperate of times.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-394
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Neurosurgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2009
Externally publishedYes



  • Cerebellar tonsillar herniation
  • Harvey Cushing
  • History of neurosurgery
  • Respiratory arrest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology

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