Obituary - Henry Herbert Stonnington

By: 

Nathan Zasler, MD

Dr. Henry Herbert Stonnington died peacefully at home on Sunday, May 31, after fighting a long battle with cancer. He was 82. His wife, Constance Stonnington, and son, Dr. Michael Stonnington, were at his side. Dr. Stonnington is survived by his wife, Constance, his six children and 15 grandchildren. Dr. Stonnington's first love was his family. His second love was medicine, which he practiced diligently and with great compassion.

Dr. Henry Herbert StonningtonDr. Stonnington was born on February 12, 1927 in Vienna, Austria. He received his MBBS (MD) at Melbourne University in 1950. Subsequently, he trained in Internal Medicine in London from 1952 to 1954. He completed his Member of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh in 1965. Following this, he attended Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota from 1969 to 1972, completing his residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. He became a Fellow of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 1973 and then went on to get a Masters of Science at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1974. He received his Fellow of Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh in 1977, his Fellow of the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine in 1989, and his Fellow of the Australasian Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine in 1992. In 2001, he became a member of both the Fellows of the / and the Stroke Council of the United States.

Dr. Stonnington held numerous academic appointments including serving as Chairman of two major Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation programs in the USA; one at the Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University from 1983 to 1988, and the other at the University of Missouri-Columbia from 1992 to 1994. Most recently, he was Clinical Professor of Medicine in the section of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Louisiana State University in New Orleans and Medical Director for rehabilitation services and Chairman of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Dr. Stonnington received the Distinguished Physician award from the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in 2002 and is venerated as a visionary leader in the field of Traumatic Brain Injury rehabilitation having served not only as the founder of the Journal of Brain Injury in 1983, but also as one of the primary guiding forces and founders (along with the late Dr. Sheldon Berrol) behind the International Association for the Study of Traumatic Brain Injury which later merged with the International Brain Injury Association. He also founded the journal Pediatric Rehabilitation. He was awarded a founder's award by the governor of Mississippi for his local work on brain injury education.

On a personal note, Dr. Stonnington was one of my primary mentors and imbued within me a philosophical approach that emphasized the importance of maintaining hope. Although many, including me, often felt he was being unrealistic with his prognoses, what I eventually realized was that his optimism fueled not only hope but also motivation, two factors in recovery after brain injury that, although “untested” in the evidence based literature, clearly seem to be critical factors in optimizing recovery and functional outcome. Dr. Stonnington availed much to me in the years that I had the pleasure and honor to work with him and I will be forever grateful for what I learned and how that knowledge has molded me both as a physician and person.

It was Dr. Stonnington's vision, professional fortitude, and optimism that improvement was possible for his patients which will be most remembered. He was a staunch advocate for his patients, a clinical mentor, husband, father, grandfather, scientist, author and poet. His mantra of "never say never" is a legacy that will be embraced by all those who had the pleasure of knowing him and working with him. He will be missed by all who knew him, but his life-changing work and devotion to his family will have etched a powerful and lasting memory of a man who lived a full life that benefited the world around him.

At the family’s request, please send memorials to Memorial Hospice, P.O. Box 1810, Gulfport, MS 39502-1810. Tel: 228-867-4160.