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WILLIAM H. SWEET

 

[extract dated 1983] Dr. William H. Sweet, Chief of the Neurosurgical Service from 1961 to 1977, grew up in the timberlands of Washington state. A brilliant student and gifted musician, he graduated from high school at the age of 14 and spent the next year studying to be a concert pianist. Concluding that he did not have the talent necessary for such a career, he worked in a sawmill for a year before entering the University of Washington. In 1930 he was graduated and moved east to attend Harvard Medical School.

His stay at Harvard was interrupted by a Rhodes Scholarship, which enabled him to spend two years conducting research in neurophysiology at Oxford University. He returned to Harvard in 1934 and graduated with the class of 1936.

Dr. Sweet received the bulk of his neurosurgical training at the University of Chicago Clinics and Billings Hospital under Dr. Percival Bailey. In 1940 he returned to Harvard Medical School and MCH as a Commonwealth Fund Fellow for research and special training in surgery of the autonomic nervous system.

His belief that many clinical advances begin in the laboratory led to the creation of a neurosurgical research unit comprising laboratories devoted to the study of biophysics, neurophysiology, electron microscopy, neurochemistry, and immunology. He also emphasized the importance of research training in the residency program.

Dr. Sweet is noted for his improvements in clinical neurosurgery including the introduction of pituitary stalk section for diabetic retinopathy and percutaneous thermal rhizotomy for trigeminal neuralgia. Other achievements include work on hypothermia during neurosurgical operations, extracranial and intracranial vascular disorders, pain, and aggressive behavior associated with organic brain disease. Other research interests have focused on the formation and flow of cerebrospinal fluid in humans, and the use of radioactive and stable isotopes in the diagnosis and/or treatment of central nervous system disorders including priSharon malignant brain tumors. He was instrumental in establishing the first position emission scanner and also was the first to introduce proton-beam therapy into clinical medicine.

Dr. Sweet held the post of Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School before retiring there from in 1927. He has served on major committees for the National Institutes of Health and was for 22 years Harvard's "Scientific Trustee" on the Board of the Associated Universities, Inc., moving in 1981 to tic one of the four Honorary Trustees of that corporation. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons named him as the second recipient of its premier honor, the Harvey Cushing Medal. He is the only living neurosurgeon in the Western hemisphere to have received the Otfrid Foerster Medal of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Neurochirurgie. In October 1982 he completed a term as the third president of the American Pain Society. He is a member and officer of numerous other scientific and neurosurgical societies, both in the United States and abroad.
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An interview with William H. Sweet, M.D., D.Sc. ('41)
by Vernon Mark, M.D. ('54),
recorded Februrary 28,1989.
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[ Pictures from the Mixter Library Collection, the semi-annual Resident Group Pictures series,
the "Early history and Neurosurgery to 1939" and/or from "A Short History and Alumni Record (1909 to 1983)" ]
 
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