During the shoot of that recording, just six weeks before he died, my dad instructed the cameraman “go see a neurologist” – my friend’s hand tremor was such that he had had to go out and buy a tripod to be able to hold the camera steady. On the day before he died, he was still in his study, British Medical Journal on his lap- an astute and dedicated clinician to the last.
Marian and I are deeply honoured to be here as your guests on behalf of the family, and particularly on behalf of my mother, Sheila, the other Professor Jennett – who at a sprightly 82 has just seen the publication of her latest book, a Dictionary of Sports Medicine. We have all felt humbled and are proud of the many tributes to Dad, Prof or BJ as we have learnt he was known.
We have been on a journey of discovery reading his diaries of the pre-Glasgow years and I would like to share some of that with you.
My father claims heritage not only from Sir William McEwan, who performed the first operation on the brain in Glasgow, but also from the American Harvey Cushing, through Sir Hugh Cairns with whom he trained. Cairns and Cushing were great compilers of data mainly gathered in wartime and forming the first relevant databank for head injury. At the time both head injury and the systematic approach were unfashionable but BJ was intent from an early stage on setting up an academic department of neurosurgery. The few neurosurgeons there were, were mainly interested in tumours and the feeling in the trade, according to his notes, was that the more neurosurgeons there were, the fewer tumours there would be to operate on – hence the perhaps surprising difficulty BJ had in finding a position in the UK.
Following a year on a Rockefeller scholarship in the late 50’s – I had a memorable year at school in Los Angeles as a 6 year old – this led him to consider a career in the United States where he thought his goals could be realised. In 1963, he was simultaneously house-hunting in Los Angeles whilst my mother had us interviewing for schools in Glasgow. The Glasgow offer came through and the rest, as they say, is history, with which you will be more familiar.
Turning to the Plum connection nearly a decade later, the partnership afforded me the teenage opportunity to spend a working summer renovating their Long Island home, perhaps stimulating my subsequent interest and career in architecture, buildings and project management. It was also evidence of my dad’s ability to forge strong personal and social relationships which underpinned the many professional links.
The fact that this is a joint award is therefore a particularly appropriate tribute. To quote one of the obituaries: “BJ was a great collaborator, forming selfless partnerships with his peers and always giving generous encouragement to his juniors – at one time more than half of the UK chairs of neurosurgery were from the Glasgow school”.
It is a privilege to know that his name, our name, will continue to be associated with excellence in the field of brain injury.
Thank you, Peter Jennett
Comments of Fred Plum, presented by Joseph Fins at the International Brain Injury Association, Gala Dinner, Lisbon, Portugal, April 12th 2008
I send greetings and my gratitude to my colleagues and old friends at the International Brain Injury Association. On behalf of my late partner Bryan Jennett, I am honored by your recognition of our work on consciousness.
It is particularly satisfying for me to review the arc of my lifework and note the symmetry between the beginning and where my young colleagues are taking it. In 1949 during a polio epidemic in New York
City, I opened the first intensive care unit for such patients, arguing that with the new technology of the iron lung, many of my patients could survive and have a meaningful life.
Later in my work on the persistent vegetative state with Dr. Jennett, I argued the opposite case. To us these patients were biological artifacts, alive in name only.
Now with the groundbreaking work of Drs. Nicholas Schiff and Joseph Fins, minimally conscious patients are responding well to a complex series of electrical stimuli. Modern technology which can see into the brain has aided my brilliant former colleagues to demonstrate the vitality of their patients, some of whom I have observed. It gives me great staisfaction to know that you will hear about their remarkable work in the emerging field of neuro-ethics today.
Thank you, Fred Plum