Tracing our roots: A look at the history of Neurosurgery of St. Louis

A Brief History of Neurosurgery of St. Louis

Ernie Sachs was born in New York City in 1879. He was accepted into Johns Hopkins University Medical School in 1900 and, following graduation in 1904, returned to his hometown for training in surgery. With a strong interest in neuroscience, he sought what neurosurgical teaching was available at that time from Sir Victor Horsley in London, England, in 1907. Sachs spent two years with Horsley before he returned to New York City in 1909.

About this same time, Dr. Fred Murphy from Boston had been appointed Chief of Surgery at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, MO as Washington University Medical School was newly reorganized and was developing surgical subspecialties. Murphy knew Sachs and recruited him to start a neurosurgery training program in St. Louis. Sachs arrived in 1911 and went to work right away. His first operation was assisting Dr. Murphy with an appendectomy.
Sachs successfully developed the neurosurgery division and started a training program. He relied on the money earned from caring for “private patients” to purchase the necessary equipment needed to develop his program. One of Sachs early fellows was private practice general surgeon Leonard Furlow from Georgia. Dr. Furlow completed one year of neurosurgical training under Sachs in 1934 and stayed on at Barnes Hospital as Sachs’ partner. It was Sachs’ desire that Furlow eventually replaces him as Chief of Neurosurgery. 

Dr. Murphy, the Chief of Surgery, and an Ernie Sachs advocate, was called into action when the United States entered WW1 in 1917. When he returned to St. Louis in 1919, he resigned his position and left the surgical practice. Murphy’s replacement was intent on developing a full-time surgical faculty at Barnes Hospital/Washington University. Consequently, the new Chief of Surgery slowly began to pull his support from Sachs and Furlow’s activity of treating patients outside of Barnes Hospital. This, coupled with the new Chief’s desire to appoint Henry Schwartz (also a Sachs trainee) as Sachs’ successor, contributed to the further development of Sachs and Furlow’s private practice. This was the beginning of what was to become Neurosurgical Associates in the St. Louis medical community, later developing into the current Neurosurgery of Saint Louis (NSL).

Early members of this private practice group included Sachs and Schwartz before Sachs retired, and Schwartz was named Chief of Neurosurgery at Washington University. Dr. Furlow later added Washington University trained neurosurgeons George Roulhac (1951), George Hawkins (late 1950’s), and John Kendig (1961) to his group. August Geise (University of Minnesota 1964) was the last neurosurgeon to join the group under the leadership of Dr. Furlow. Since then, other members have included Harry Cole (University of Minnesota 1974), George Mendelsohn (Massachusetts General Hospital 1974), Alex Marchosky (Washington University 1979), John Krettek (UCLA 1983), and Dennis Mollman (University of Minnesota 1987).

Throughout the nearly 90 years of our existence, we have been driven to provide excellent neurosurgical care to all our patients focusing on quality, safety, and value leading to the best possible outcomes.

Michael F. Boland, MD
Source: Grubb, Jr, Robert L., Neurosurgery at Washington University: A Century of Excellence. St. Louis, MO, Washington University Publishing, 2011.