CNS Spotlight: “From the Ends of the Earth to the Deepest Ocean — A Personal Odyssey”

kGuest Post from Kyle A. Smith, MD
CNS Leadership Member, Congress Quarterly Committee
Neurosurgery Resident, Kansas University Medical Center
Kansas City, KS

A common thread within neurosurgical research is the quest for new technology and therapeutics such as immunotherapy and surgical devices to improve the care of our patients. Thus, exploring new scientific frontiers with grant assistance is paramount to field advancement and improving patient care. In a similar manner, explorers continue to challenge the unknown in pursuit of new knowledge and discovery. One such renowned explorer is Don Walsh.

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Captain Don Walsh

Captain Don Walsh, retired naval officer, explorer, and oceanographer (perhaps one of the greatest), delivered an evocative talk during the CNS Annual Meeting in New Orleans. Walsh poignantly recounted his history of exploration around the world’s seas  — from end-to-end, and to the deepest crevices of the ocean.

During Walsh’s talk, “From the Ends of the Earth to the Deepest Ocean: A Personal Odyssey,” he explored many interesting topics and recounted his experience. Notable highlights:

  • Walsh and Jacques Piccard had the courage and commitment to overcome obstacles to get something done. They took a calculated risk and succeeded, with a record that still holds more than 50 years later.
  • The Artic was first seen only 180 years ago. Now over 50 nations have research investments within the area. This investment speaks highly of the drive for scientific discovery in humankind.
  • The Artic Ocean has one of the largest continental shelf regions with dense aquatic population, buried natural resources, and continental warming. The area has become busy for discovery and commercialization. Areas once considered desolate could foreseeably become populated.
  • “No blue, no you,” he remarked, reflecting the need for ocean awareness. Only 10 percent of ocean waters have been explored. The need for scientific research is vast, and opportunities wide open.
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Photo credit to National Geographic, Vol. 118, Issue 2, August 1960

Walsh’s career as an oceanographer began with the U.S. Navy in the 1950s and the famed exploration of the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific in 1960, with co-explorer Jacques Piccard. Of the submariners in the Navy at the time, two men volunteered and Walsh was chosen. To date, these two men retain the depth record for first-hand observation of the Trench. In a bout of irony, the craft’s landing stirred enough sediment that the view from the porthole was like “looking into a bowl of milk” and not much sea life was actually seen. Walsh continued to advance his career through over 90 polar dives, the operation of a consultant practice, and a professorship in ocean engineering at the University of Southern California.

To segue Walsh’s story into the realm of neurosurgery, perhaps it becomes important to look at his story from a perspective of taking risks, pushing the limits, and disseminating education. Walsh set out in the bathyscaphe Trieste because he, “just thought it would be fun.” Since that time, he continued to take risks and mentor young colleagues in the spirit of scientific discovery. Similarly, we too as neurosurgery clinicians and academicians should continue to push the boundaries of science through clinical trials and scientific research, and investment in the education of future generations. Only through such “neurosurgical exploration” can we conquer the challenges of the many disorders our patients face.

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