NTL Issue 9

OBITUARY

William Bryan Jennett, CBE, M.D., FRCS

Emeritus, Professor of Neurosurgery

University of Glasgow, Scotland

 

Passed away peacefully, at home, surrounded by his loving family on January 26, 2008, at the age of 81.  

William Bryan Jennett I had the distinct honor of working with Dr. Jennett on several projects over the last 15 years.  My interactions with him gave me a true perspective for the brilliant mind and person that was Dr. Bryan Jennett.  It is rare to meet an individual who was, at the same time, unassuming, yet commanded the attention and respect of all those around him.  In the early 1970s, he really went where no scientist or physician had gone before and addressed issues germane to a sector of the patient population that most clinicians would rather have ignored…the vegetative state. 

When he first proposed and described the vegetative state (along with Dr. Fred Plum), he created neurobehavioral phraseology that would stand the test of time and become ingrained in the neuroscience nomenclature.  He subsequently developed the Glasgow Coma Scale in 1974 with Graham Teasdale followed by the Glasgow Outcome Scale in 1975 with Dr. Michael Bond.  These seminal ideas led to a high level of visibility within the field of neurosurgery, as well as, brain injury medicine in general. 

During his career, Dr. Jennett not only distinguished himself as a clinician and scholar but lectured and wrote extensively on issues relating to brain injury.  As has been said, he sustained a commitment to a challenging and controversial issue as it related to the vegetative state, and he was able to draw concepts from many fields into a cogent analysis of the topic as was demonstrated, later in his career, in his 2002 monograph entitled "The Vegetative State," Medical Fact Epic, Ethical and Legal Dilemmas." 

He received many honors during his career and in 1991, upon retiring, he was made a commander of the British Empire.  In 2007, he was the first person to be awarded the Medal of the Society of British Neurological Surgeons for his outstanding contributions in neurosurgery. 

In my interactions with him, I always had to pinch myself because I found it hard to believe that I was in the same room with “the Dr. Bryan Jennett”; yet, he was one of the most down-to-earth people I have ever met and one of the most likable.  His keen interest and depth of understanding regarding disorders of consciousness following traumatic brain injury stimulated my own interest in the topic and that of many of my contemporaries. 

He remained one of the driving forces behind some of the more recent international work in the area of disorders of consciousness over the last 15 years.  What was most amazing was Dr. Jennett’s ability to look back on his own work and be constructively critical of it, including acknowledging some of the limitations of his own thinking.  He continued to provide encouragement to other clinicians to pursue further honing of our collective understanding of the complexities of both assessment and management of this special population of persons with acquired brain injury.

He certainly will be remembered for many reasons by many different people but, as far as I'm concerned, brain injury and Bryan Jennett were, are and will always be pretty synonymous.  Dr. Jennett was and remains in many ways what the field of brain injury medicine is and should be about and with a small cadre of other significant early names in the field, such as Dr. Caveness and Dr. Russell, will always be remembered for his academic and intellectual contributions and maybe most significantly for his ability to share that knowledge with others, as well as, stimulate critical inquiry and debate on topics that had historically not garnered much attention or introspection.

Nathan D. Zasler, M.D., FAAPM&R, FACRM, FAADEP, DAAPM, CBIST 
CEO & Medical Director, Concussion Care Centre of Virginia, Ltd.

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