Innovation in Our DNA – Part 2: Innovation Champions

Innovation in Our DNA – Part 2: Innovation Champions

Dr. Crile continued to be an innovation champion in Cleveland Clinic’s formative decades. He was also a tireless practitioner, conducting as many as 30 procedures a day. He created a welcoming environment for others itching to push the boundaries of accepted practice and find new, better solutions to patient problems.

Among the iconoclasts who would work with Dr. Crile and follow in his footsteps was Otto Glasser, PhD. Cleveland Clinic was among the pioneers in radiation therapy in the early 1920s at a time when such approaches to treating cancer were in their infancy. The founders used funds left over from the construction of the Clinic Building to purchase a gram of radium and build a plant for the production of radon “seeds” for the treatment of cancer, the first such plant in the region.

Dr. Glasser, a biophysicist and radiology pioneer who would later lead the Biophysics Department, was part of a team in 1925 that created the first dosimeter, which accurately measured the amount of radiation administered to patients. The dosimeter was among the first Cleveland Clinic innovations to become commercially available. Within a few years, it was being manufactured by a local company.

Another brilliant research pioneer was Maria Telkes, PhD. Having received a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Budapest at the age of 24, she arrived in Cleveland in 1925 and was hired by Cleveland Clinic as a biophysicist. For the next dozen years, she worked with Dr. Crile on several research projects, including the invention of a photoelectric mechanism that could record brain waves. This work led to her being named one of the 11 most influential women in the United States by The New York Times in 1934. She was the only scientist to make the list.

W. James Gardner, MD, joined Cleveland Clinic in 1929 as chief of neurosurgery, replacing Charles E. Locke, MD, one of the 123 staff and patients who had died earlier that year in a horrific fire that released clouds of toxic gas that swept through the Clinic Building. In his first year with Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Gardner developed his first of many inventions: an air mattress to prevent pressure ulcers. His landmark innovation followed in 1938: The Gardner neurosurgical chair helped make brain surgery easier by holding the patient’s head firmly in place. He trained generations of neurosurgeons and became known as Ohio’s “grandfather of neurosurgery.”

Spending on research and many other aspects of medicine at Cleveland Clinic was limited in the 1930s and early 1940s. However, during this time, Dr. Crile increasingly devoted himself to research. Failing eyesight and advancing age forced him to step away from the operating table, but his innovative spirit burned as brightly as ever.

Dr. Crile, 77, and his wife, Grace, were both seriously injured in a plane crash in 1941 while flying through a storm in Florida. Dr. Crile wasn’t the type to quietly convalesce. While recovering, he reasoned that the storm’s violent downdrafts and updrafts were responsible for the crash and that the pilot, like Crile himself, at some point passed out due to an inadequate amount of blood reaching his brain.

Dr. Crile deduced that if pilots wore pneumatic suits like the one he had developed in the early 1900s to treat surgical shock, the suit would maintain the proper circulation to the brain. With the world once again at war, Dr. Crile shared the idea with the U.S. Army and Navy. He was credited with creating an early military-use G-suit, which was developed in partnership with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

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