Highly Respected, Beloved Pediatric Neurologist Dies

Verne Strudwick Caviness, Jr, MD, PhD, a highly respected pediatric neurologist and researcher, died July 6 at his home in Rockport, Massachusetts. He was 86.

Caviness was the Giovanni Armenise Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Emeritus, and the inaugural Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Child Neurology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Caviness joined the neurology department at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston in 1969. From 1982 to 2007, he was director of the pediatric neurology department. He also served as director of the hospital’s Center for Morphometric Analysis.

“Verne was one of the great MGH neurologists: an astute clinician, a successful researcher and a beloved teacher for generations of MGH Neurology residents,” Merit Cudkowicz, MD, chief of neurology, and Kevin Staley, MD, chief of the pediatric neurology unit, both at MGH, in a statement.

Throughout his career, Caviness was dedicated to teaching younger generations of neurologists. He earned many teaching awards and after retiring, he founded the Verne S. Caviness Endowed Scholar in Pediatric Neurology at MGH.

Brian Edlow, MD, a critical care neurologist at MGH, remembers Caviness as “a mentor and hero to generations of neurologists.”

In addition to teaching, Caviness has made many contributions as a researcher and has written more than 200 peer-reviewed articles. Caviness also led research programs in developmental neurobiology and brain imaging (primarily using MRI) in MGH’s Department of Neurology.

“A Humanistic First”

Caviness was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, and was educated in the state’s public schools. He was not averse to physical labour, cleared land and performed other agricultural work in the summer. Caviness received a degree in English literature from Duke University, graduating with honors in 1956. In 1960, he had obtained a doctorate in experimental pathology from Oxford University, in the United Kingdom.

An early milestone in Caviness’s medical career was graduating from Harvard with an MD in 1962. His relationship with MGH began with his clinical training in internal medicine and neurology at the institution. During the Vietnam War (from 1967 to 1969), Caviness served as a captain and chief of neurology at the United States Air Force Hospital in Tachikawa, Japan.

After completing his shift, Caviness returned to MGH, where he attended the stroke and pediatric neurology services for five decades. He was also active in MGH’s adult and pediatric neurology and pediatric education programs.

Shortly after returning to MGH, Caviness began researching developmental neurobiology with Prof Richard Sidman. His areas of research include normal histogenesis of the forebrain, developmental neuropathology, organization of neural systems and the histogenesis of the cortical malformation in the reeler mutant mouse.

“Verne has contributed many groundbreaking discoveries to our understanding of the cellular basis of brain development,” Cudkowicz and Staley said in their statement. “His powers of observation and thoughtful approach to diagnosis will not be forgotten.”

Many colleagues posted tributes to Caviness on Twitter. Natalia Rost, MD, chief of strokes at MGH, remembered him as “a humanist first and foremost, a kind soul, a caring physician, a thoughtful mentor, and an extraordinary scientist.”

“It is impossible to overstate Dr. Verne Caviness’s legacy in neurology and pediatric neurology in particular,” wrote Melissa Walker, MD, PhD, a pediatric neurologist at MGH.

Brian Nahed, MD, a neurosurgeon and director of the neurosurgery residency program at MGH, described Caviness as a “wonderful master physician, colleague, and devoted mentor to so many and the standard we all hold ourselves to.”

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