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Re: I am Disappointed Obituary to Peter Schmiedek
Dear Prof. Peter Schmiedek,
We are all used to your style of leaving parties and events quietly, early before they reach their end. You like to take the bill generously and quietly, one-on-one with the waiter in the back, before your guests and team have finished their deserts. We always appreciated this peculiar, restless side of your personality and were waiting for the next opportunity when you would bring us together in an enjoyable setting.
However, this time it seems that you made your final call and left the party of all parties—prematurely—now it is our turn to say that “WE are disappointed” (you loved to throw that sentence at us without additional explanation when you felt that we needed some correction in our performance). You left many behind—family, friends, pupils, and patients, all full of admiration and grateful for what you have done to them and how you had an impact on their private and professional lives. They wouldn't be there where they are now without you.
We admire you for what you have achieved in your professional life. From 1969 to 1974, you worked as, one would say today, PostDoc at the Institute for Surgical Research at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich where you focused on the pathophysiology of brain edema and strategies to measure cerebral blood flow in patients. You were among the first to work in this institute following its inauguration, and were part of the nidus that would develop this institute into an Ivy League Institution for Surgical and Translational Research, shaping generations of future Surgeon Scientists already 50 years ago. In 1975, you started your Neurosurgical residency at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich. In 1979, you had the opportunity to do a 6-month training at the Department of Neurosurgery, Texas Medical Center, where you put your focus on the treatment of patients with traumatic brain injury. by this, you again followed your translational approach to academic Neurosurgery striving to connect your benchwork on brain edema with innovative patient care. In 1993, you took over the Department of Neurosurgery in Mannheim, University of Heidelberg, where you were responsible for teaching, education, and training of Neurosurgeons for 15 years until your retirement in 2008. You definitely left giant footprints back there. You not only advanced the department to one of the leading academic Neurosurgical centers in Germany and Europe but also, more importantly, established your Neurosurgical school and spread your Neurosurgical way of thinking.
In your clinical practice, you were among the first in Germany to follow the concept of subspecialization, where a Neurosurgeon puts most of his or her efforts and expertise into a Neurosurgical subspecialty to advance this field surgically, clinically, and scientifically. Your subspecialty and professional love was clearly Vascular Neurosurgery. You developed an undisputed reputation in the surgical treatment of cerebral aneurysms and perfected the surgical techniques for aneurysm clipping through your huge number of cases. You were a pioneer of bypass surgery for patients with steno-occlusive disease and carried this field on despite stormy weather following controversial scientific evidence, and became an academic leader in understanding and treating patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage. Besides these activities, you were active in the fields of epilepsy surgery, neuro-oncology, minimally invasive spine surgery, and trauma.
You loved to challenge Neurosurgical dogmas and questioned Neurosurgical habits that were propagated rather by eminence than by evidence. It was always an eye-opener: if somebody claimed a Neurosurgical detail to be “the one truth,” you would raise your eyebrows and ask “Really? Show me the evidence.” You set down and developed a way to (dis-)prove and came up with a suggestion, a process that culminated in a series of clinical studies and publications that demystified the topic. Examples include the following: “is it really necessary to take out the whole functional disk when only a part has herniated?”, “watertight closure of the dura is a must—really?”, “when CSF is physiologically reabsorbed via the sagittal sinus, where is the sense in placing a ventriculoperitoneal shunt?”. This list could be continued. However, more importantly, these examples show your unique quality of thinking out of the box, sensing new trends, challenging the field, overcoming Neurosurgical myths, and constantly staying curious in your professional playgrounds.
After retirement, you took on several humanitarian projects that combined your curiosity for foreign cultures, quest for new areas of activity, and humanitarian attitude. For example, you joined the British Military Camp in Afghanistan, worked in Yemen, Pakistan, and Nepal despite the difficult local political situations, and fell in love with Bhutan. You loved to combine your trips with your creative love, photography. Your multitude of analog and black/white photographs documented the daily lives and individual personalities, and served as silent witnesses of the world as you explored it.
For the many that didn't know you well, you were a grumpy old man that liked to give sarcastic comments to young trainees at Neurosurgical courses. Those that knew you well understood after some time that this was part of your special humor and strategy to ease up the tension and keep up the stamina that we Neurosurgeons need for our daily work. Throughout your entire career, you were driven by your care and genuine interest in your patients and their lives. You were there for them 24/7, looking after them even at nights and on weekends, and revising them in case of complications always personally, if feasible. Your life was also characterized by a high level of aesthetics. This was evident in your meticulous surgical techniques, your classic taste of clothing, and your deep interest in art and your own paintings. Those who have known you well for a long time all report that painting in small and scarce ateliers was a lifelong companion of yours; some saw even parallels to a monklike behavior reduced to the minimum needed for a modest life. Your strongest and perhaps the most important attributes for us, however, have always been your honesty, generosity, and incorruptibility. By these, you became a compass for your residents, faculty, and friends, and inspired them by a humanistic role model that you labeled “ein anständiger Mensch.” Today, we are convinced that this is perhaps the most important detail that forms the basis of becoming a competent Neurosurgeon of your taste. Everything else that makes a Neurosurgeon can be acquired and practiced later on.
You also very early on understood that Neurosurgery only works well within an international network. Thus, you were always keen on making new friends with Neurosurgeons, learn from different approaches, and connect internationally. We can only speculate about the friendship and camaraderie that you experienced in these times when renowned Neurosurgeons like Robert Spetzler, Hunt Batjer, and many others allow us insights into a few anecdotes with a large smile on their faces.
Dear Boss, taken together, we are grateful for the impact you had on our personal developments. You were a great teacher, role model, and fatherlike figure for us, and we will always try to live up to your high expectations. I trust well that your impact and education have prepared us well to manage the upcoming years, both professionally and privately, always with the conviction that you will accompany us on our ways.
Article published online:
27 December 2021
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