Edgar A. Kahn
1964, Miami, FL
Our distinguished guest, Dr. Edgar A. Kahn, whom we honored in 1964, was held in high esteem and affection by his colleagues and by the many neurosurgeons he trained over the years at the University of Michigan. He was born in Detroit in 1900, the only son among the four children of Mr. and Mrs. Albert Kahn. As a youth he attended Andover Academy in Massachusetts, but after graduation returned to his native Midwest to enter his mother's alma mater, the University of Michigan, with which he has been associated ever since. He was elected captain of the first University of Michigan hockey team in 1923, a position which called for the physical agility, coordination, mental alertness, and endurance which are so characteristic of him. Even in 1964 one may have often found him skating on an Ann Arbor park rink with his attractive young daughters.
It is infrequent that a man internationally known in one field has a son who achieves acclaim in an entirely different field. Albert Kahn was an architect, world famous for the design of the modern assembly line factory he developed for the automobile industry. He also designed office buildings for Detroit and other cities, and many of the finest buildings on the University of Michigan campus. Although Edgar accompanied his father on business trips to Europe and Russia and spent a summer working in the firm's office, he soon realized that this was not the work in which he wished to spend the remainder of his life. He entered the Medical School at the University of Michigan and received his M.D. degree in 1924. A rotating internship and an assistant residency in general surgery under Dr. Hugh Cabot followed. In 1926 Dr. Max Minor Peet of the surgical staff decided to limit himself to the practice of neurosurgery and took on Dr. Kahn as his first resident. Thus began a close association that was to continue, with the exception of the war years, for the remainder of Dr. Peet's life. Dr. Kahn became an assistant professor in 1929, associate professor in 1934, and after Dr. Peet's death was appointed,, in 1950, professor and chairman of the Section of Neurosurgery at Michigan.
Early in 1940, Dr. Kahn volunteered his services to a Red Cross Unit that was destined for France. Unfortunately, France fell before the unit could see service and its members barely escaped from Paris before the onrushing German forces. He later joined the United States Army as chief of neurosurgery of the 298th General Hospital (University of Michigan). In England he became a lieutenant colonel and chief of surgery of this unit, and later in France was the chief of a neurosurgical center at the 48th General Hospital in Paris. At the end of the war he was discharged as a colonel. Following the war he was consulting neurosurgeon at Percy Jones Veterans' Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan and has been chief of neurosurgery at the United States Veterans' Hospital in Ann Arbor. During recent years he has been a civilian consultant in neurosurgery to the Air Force.
Early in Dr. Kahn's career he pioneered in the use of craniotomy for the removal of subdural hemotomas in infancy. He was the first surgeon to inject Thorotrast into brain abscesses, using serial x-rays to check on the localization, size, and course of the lesion. With Dr. Max Peet he was responsible for the development of bilateral supradiaphragmatic splanchnicectomy in the treatment of hypertension. Dr. Kahn did much to aid in the standardization of the technique of thoracic anterolateral cordotomy in the treatment of intractable pain. He described the dentate ligament syndrome in one of the first papers to emphasize the importance of neuroanatomical pathways within the spinal cord. The surgery of all brain tumors has always been of special interest to him, but in recent years he has been particularly interested in the challenge of the surgery of craniopharyngiomas and their preoperative and postoperative problems.
Our guest was first and foremost a clinical neurosurgeon of distinction, and although not usually an active participant in experimental research, he was always interested in its practical applications. He was instrumental in securing the internationally famous neuroanatomist, Dr. Elizabeth C. Crosby, as director of the Kresge Neurosurgical Research Laboratory at Michigan upon her retirement from active teaching in the Anatomy Department. This fostered a closer and very productive relationship between the basic science of neuroanatomy and clinical work. As senior coauthors of the book Correlative Neurosurgery Dr. Kahn and Dr. Crosby emphasized this cooperation through three editions.
Dr. Kahn was one of the original Diplomates of the American Board of Surgery (1937) and of the American Board of Neurological Surgery (1940) and served as a member of the latter board from 1954 through 1960. Among the societies of which he was a member are the American College of Surgeons, the Central Surgical Association, the American Neurological Association, and the French Neurosurgical Society. He was a founding member of The Harvey Cushing Society and its president in 1954. He was also a member of the Society of Neurological Surgeons and served as its president in 1957.
Anyone who knew our honored guest cannot help but be impressed with the wide variety of interests which were so much a part of his life. From his family he acquired an early appreciation of art and of French culture. For many years he was an enthusiastic pilot of his own planes. He enjoyed boating on the Great Lakes in the summer and skiing with his family in the winter.
In 1949 Dr. Kahn married the charming Rose Hermann Parker, a capable internist in her own right, and they had three attractive young daughters. The family was on a winter sabbatical in Europe in 1964. The girls were already in school in Switzerland and Dr. Kahn delayed his departure in order to be the honored guest of the Congress.
Dr. Kahn's qualities of intellectual curiosity, continuing self-criticism, and enthusiasm made him a leader in his field. His flair for the occasional unexpected and original delighted his friends. His genuine warmth and desire to aid a patient in distress, or a resident or medical student in difficulty, engendered a deep loyalty and respect in all who knew him. Dr. Edgar Kahn died August 29, 1985.