UCSD Medical School. Brandon Quester/inewsource

 Don and Karen Cohn gave $2.5 million to UC San Diego School of Medicine to create the Don and Karen Cohn Chancellor’s Endowed Chair in Neurosurgery, it was announced Friday.

The gift is intended to support “excellence in research, education and clinical care in the field of neurological surgery,” a statement from the university said.

Dr. Alexander Khalessi, neurosurgeon at UCSD Health, chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery and professor of neurological surgery, radiology and neurosciences at UCSD School of Medicine has been named the inaugural chair holder.

In 2017, Don Cohn was enjoying a vacation with family when he fell and hit his head. It wasn’t until he returned home to San Diego, however, that he became aware of a serious injury and was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, or bleeding in the brain.

Typically, patients undergo open brain surgery to stop the bleeding. However, surgery was not an option for Cohn due to other medical conditions. Instead, his neurosurgical team at UCSD Health, led by Khalessi, suggested a new, minimally invasive approach.

Cohn was the first patient in the region and among the first nationally to receive the treatment.

“Rather than perform open surgery to drain his hematoma, we were able to navigate catheters through blood vessels to secure the bleeding source threatening his brain, a first at UC San Diego Health,” said Khalessi. “Mr. Cohn’s case demonstrates how innovative, tailored care applied to the right patient can improve upon standard-of-care treatments.

“More than a successful proof-of-principle case, patients like Mr. Cohn lay the foundation for real medical progress,” Khalessi said. “I am pleased to report two large-scale, randomized clinical trials evaluating this approach for subdural hematoma are now underway.”

Cohn believes the innovative procedure is the reason he is alive Friday.

“As a patient whose life was saved by an innovative treatment, I learned firsthand the importance of groundbreaking research and how it translates to exceptional patient care,” said Cohn. “With this gift, I’m honored to support Dr. Khalessi and his work to advance the field of neurosurgery in hopes that we can help as many patients as possible survive brain injuries and other neurological disorders.”

In addition to the $2.5 million gift, an additional $500,000 will be provided from the UC San Diego Chancellor’s Endowed Chair Challenge. An endowed chair is one of the highest honors that an academic institution can confer upon a faculty member. It recognizes excellence in research and clinical practice.

Combined, these funds are intended to help advance innovation in neurological surgery, including new medical devices, biologics and research into the underlying causes of brain diseases and disorders. The funds will also expand the collaborative infrastructure between UCSD Health, the Jacobs School of Engineering and UCSD School of Medicine.

“Neurosurgery’s strong partnerships across the university and with established research institutes on the La Jolla mesa and the broader biotech community support unique opportunities to combine neurological research, education and innovation,” said Dr. David Brenner, vice chancellor for health sciences at UCSD.

In October, Khalessi will assume vice-presidency of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons, the nation’s largest academic neurosurgical society. He is a founding member of the Medical Device Innovation Consortium, which advises the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on early clinical feasibility for emerging neurovascular devices, and serves on the National Institutes of Health Interventional Advisory Panel for StrokeNet, which provides scientific oversight for federally funded research in neurovascular disease.

For Cohn, he is proud to have played a role in this growth as both a grateful patient and philanthropist.

“I’ve lived in San Diego since 1961 and have watched the phenomenal expansion of this city, with UC San Diego’s growth at the center,” he said. “I’m so proud and grateful that UC San Diego is here for our community, and I’m happy to be a small part of it.”

–City News Service

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