Thoralf M. Sundt, Jr.
1989, Atlanta, GA
The honored guest for the 1989 meeting of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons was Dr. Thoralf M. Sundt, Jr., chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the Mayo Clinic and professor of Neurological Surgery at the Mayo Medical School. He is an internationally recognized leader in cerebrovascular surgery who has written more than 200 articles on this subject.
Dr. Sundt's initial career interests lay in the military and not in medicine. As the middle son of an architect, he followed in the footsteps of his two uncles and entered the United States Military Academy at West Point at the age of 18 years. After graduation, he had a distinguished career in the Korean War and was awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Because "practicing for war was boring," he decided to pursue a career in medicine and subsequently entered the University of Tennessee Medical School in 1956. Inspired by Dr. Eustace Semmes and Dr. Francis Murphey, he undertook his residency training at the University of Tennessee. During his residency, he spent 6 months at the Mayo Clinic studying medical neurology. Impressed by the large number of surgical cases done there and the opportunity to work with Dr. Collin MacCarty and Dr. Ross Miller, he returned to the Mayo Clinic upon completion of his residency for additional training. His interest in cerebrovascular surgery developed while working in the laboratory with Dr. Arthur G. Waltz. During this period, his concern for the high morbidity and mortality related to direct surgical approaches to intracranial aneurysms stimulated the development of the encircling clip grafts for aneurysms that tear at their base.
In 1966, he joined the University of Tennessee faculty and in 3 years operated on more than 150 intracranial aneurysms. In 1969, he was offered a staff position at the Mayo Clinic. Since then, he has refined surgical techniques for operations such as carotid endarterectomy and intracranial aneurysms with results considered among the best in neurosurgery. He continues to recognize the role of revascularization procedures for cerebral ischemia.
Dr. Sundt has been an active participant in organized neurosurgery. He is currently the editor of the Journal of Neurosurgery. In 1989, he held the chairmanship of the Credentials Committee of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and was president of the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons. In 1991, Dr. Sundt was inducted into the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
His professional successes have been transcended by his role as husband and father. The faithful and loving support of his wife, Lois, has been a mainstay for 36 years. Their three children are Laura, a successful businesswoman; Thoralf, who is completing his training in cardiac surgery; and John, an attorney. Dr. Sundt's hobbies and interests include military history, violin, ecology, and arboreal horticulture.
Dr. Sundt is highly respected and admired by his colleagues as a skilled neurosurgeon and a gentleman. Among those he has trained, he enjoys the deepest loyalty and esteem.