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  • Bennett M. Stein

    1991, Orlando, FL

    Bennett Mueller Stein is a man of many talents spanning neurosurgery, teaching, research, scholarship, athletics, and auto mechanics. The single element common to all these seemingly unrelated endeavors is the pursuit of excellence, which has fostered his continued growth and made his accomplishments the standards by which subsequent achievements are measured.

    Born February 2, 2931 in New York, Ben grew up in Cliffside Pak and Edgefield, NJ where he attended public school. As an only child, he was extremely close to his immediate and distant relatives, and family remains one of his highest priorities.

    The influence of his parents was especially significant. His father, Walter, held an engineering degree and for many years worked for General Electric. In later years, he and his brother, Albert, purchase and ran a local newspaper, The Palisadian. Ben grew up watching his father work on mechanical projects at home, and it was during this time that he developed his enduring fascination with cars and clocks. It is not difficult to trace the origins of his delight in precise and intricate problem-solving.

    His mother, Marjorie, was an English teacher in Cliffside Park, a professional woman at a time when careers mothers were rare. Her emphasis on education, achievement, and a high quality of performance certainly helped shape Ben's standards and career goals.

    Two vignettes from childhood summers at the family lake house in New Jersey illustrate the development of Ben's curiosity about how things work and his business acumen. He persuaded his father to place an ad in the local newspaper for someone to sit in the refrigerator and determine whether the light actually did go off when the door was closed! A few years later, he and a friend formed a salvage company and, for a modest fee, they would search the bottom of the lake for lost items.

    When he graduated Dwight-Morrow High School in 1948, Ben intended to pursue a career in engineering and his college choices were between Rennasalaer Polytechnic Institute and Dartmouth College. His mother, in a prescient moment, handed him an issue of Parade Magazine and said, "You should be a doctor like this neurosurgeons." The man on the cover was Dr. J. Lawrence Pool and the article discussed his experimental work in psychosurgery. As a first-year resident in 1960, Ben finally met Dr. Pool and, 20 years later, he succeeded his mentor as chief at the Neurological Institute.

    However, the choice of neurosurgery did not coincide with the adolescent discovery of a role model. After earning an A.B. from Dartmouth in 1952, Ben began the two-year Dartmouth medical course which because of the teaching method, did not appeal to his love of order and logic. Fortunately, during the second year, he observed Dr. Robert Fisher, a neurosurgeon in the college clinic. Suddenly, neurosurgery as an academic discipline and a lifelong career choice became very exciting, and his course was firmly established.

    The final years of medical school were taken at McGill University where Ben attained his M.D. in 1955, followed by a rotating internship at the U.S. Naval Hospital, St. Albans, NY. Between 1956 and 1958, he fulfilled his military obligation on the neurological services in the U.S. Naval Hospitals at Bethesda and Great Lakes. He currently holds the rank of Lt. Commander USNR-MC, Ret. During 1958-59, Ben was a Fulbright Scholar at the National Hospital in Queens Square, London.

    Upon his return, Ben took a year of assistant general surgical residency at Presbyterian Hospital, and then four years of neurosurgical residency at the Neurological Institute. By 1962 his earliest publications (with W.F. McCormick) were already devoted to vascular diseases. After completion of his residency, Ben became a special fellow of the NINDB in neuroanatomy and studied with Malcolm Carpenter at Columbia University. Published investigations on the vestibular nuclei, subthalamus and dorsal roots of the primate spinal cord soon followed. Together with his mentor J. Lawrence Pool, and Richard A. Fraser, he published a series of seminal publications on vasospasm and the noradregnergic system. In 1971, he left Columbia to become Professor and Chairman of Neurological Surgery at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. The same year, his classic paper on the infratentorial supracerebellar approach to pineal lesions was published.

    While at Tufts, S.M. Wolpert and Ben began their research on combined embolization and excision for the treatment of cerebral arteriovenous malformation. This work was soon extended to spinal AVMs and Ben became interested in intramedullary spinal cord tumors as well. It is interesting to see how often Ben's earlier investigative work has presaged a subsequent clinical interest. In 1980, he was called back to Columbia to serve as Byron Stookey Professor of Neurological Surgery and Chairman of the Department at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. In addition to his teaching and administrative responsibilities, Ben has remained extraordinarily productive, having authored more than 170 scientific works and extending his studies of AVMs and pineal region tumors to include the chemical reactivity of vessels and the hormonal activity of tumors.

    The desire to excel has characterized all areas of Ben's life. He lettered in track in high school and rowed crew in college. He is an accomplished tennis player and superb skier. His most passionate avocation, however is Ben's Motor Service, a professional auto mechanic shop where, with the same elegant precision he brings to neurosurgery, he rebuilds and cares for a fleet of bright red sports cars.

    Ben's early devotion to family has deepened and extended to the family he has helped create. While a student at Mcgill, he met and married Doreen Holes, a nurse at the University Hospital. They have two daughters, Susan, now married to Alan Bachman and Marjorie, now married to Warren Marucci. Several years after Doreen passed away, Ben was fortunate enough to find happiness again when he met and married Bonita Soontit. In 1989, Ben achieved two milestones: he became a grandfather for the first time when Rebecca was born to Marjorie and Warren, and he became a father for the third time when Bennett Charles Stein arrived.

    Ben has served as a Governor of the American College of Surgeons, on the Executive Committee of the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons, as a Director of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and as Treasurer and President of the Society of Neurological Surgeons. To every endeavor, he brings the same thoughtful and deliberate attention to detail that characterizes his meticulous operative technique. His calm manner, love of teaching and exquisite technique have made him a beloved mentor to residents at two fine institutions. The Congress of Neurological Surgeons is deeply honored to have had Bennett M. Stein serve as our honored guest.

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