Dr. Duke Samson picture in the operating room where he created a legacy of excellence in neurological surgery at UT Southwestern.
Dr. Duke Samson in surgery

Story courtesy of UT Southwestern

When UT Southwestern alumnus Dr. Harvey Birsner established the Harvey A. Birsner 2005 Trust benefiting Southwestern Medical Foundation, he hoped to continue excellence in neurological surgery and create long-lasting benefits to UT Southwestern Medical Center for future generations. In 2013, Dr. Birsner died of cancer at his home in Santa Monica, California. A bequest from his estate, along with other gifts, endowed the Duke Samson Chair of Neurological Surgery. He was inspired to support his alma mater because of the excellent medical training he received, as well as the deep respect he held for his lifelong friend and mentor, Dr. Duke Samson, former Chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery and current Professor Emeritus.

Dr. Birsner’s endowment is a gift that keeps on giving, and will forever benefit the medical school he was so grateful to attend. Today, Dr. Babu Welch, Professor of Neurological Surgery and Radiology, holds the Duke Samson Chair. He says Dr. Birsner’s bequest has left an indelible impact on the neurological surgery program.

The gift is an excellent example of the long-term commitment of trainees to the success of the Department. As the inaugural holder of the Duke Samson Chair of Neurological Surgery, I have been able to bring international exposure to the Department from educational opportunities in India, France, Spain, and Switzerland. These activities will help me maintain the educational and community missions of the Department.

Dr. Babu Welch

The Power of Collaboration

Global partnerships between medical institutions enable scientists to gain broad and varied clinical experiences and build on one another’s discoveries that lead to new and more effective treatments for the most challenging medical problems faced today. These collaborations provide a valuable exchange of experience and have the power to accelerate and amplify the impact of collective efforts among institutions around the world.

Dr. Welch represented the Department at an international meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the cerebral bypass. “This was a significant honor as our initial chairman, Dr. Duke Samson, brought the bypass ability to Dallas. The fact that we were invited and that I was able to attend cemented UT Southwestern’s reputation in the international community. I also presented on MRI techniques that are the topic of some of my collaborative research with other institutions,” he said.

In addition, the Birsner Trust has enabled Dr. Welch to represent the Department at a country-wide conference on cerebrovascular disease in Chennai, India, as well as sponsor conference attendance for fellows and post-doctoral trainees to present their UT Southwestern research findings.

Dr. Birsner’s legacy is evident in the growing international prominence of UT Southwestern’s neurological surgery program. It is our great privilege to steward such important legacies and work in partnership with our medical leaders to sustain the funding which moves medical progress forward.

Kathleen M. Gibson, President and CEO, Southwestern Medical Foundation.

A Fitting Legacy for Lifetime of Service and Excellence in Neurological Surgery

In 1965, Dr. Birsner came to UT Southwestern as a surgical intern. After completing his residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital, he was drafted by the Navy, where his wartime surgical experience heightened his interest in the complex relationship between eyesight and the brain. He completed a neuro-ophthalmology fellowship at the UCSF School of Medicine in 1971 and returned to UT Southwestern to serve as Chief Resident of Neurosurgery until 1972. He returned to California, where he maintained an active clinical practice and eventually served on the Board of Governance at Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster for 16 years – four as Chairman – and as Chief of Staff of the hospital.
He remained a Clinical Professor of Neurological Surgery at UT Southwestern during this time.

As CEO of Antelope Valley Hospital, Mathew Abraham worked alongside Dr. Birsner. Together, he said, they repositioned the hospital’s neurosurgery program to be the best in the area and did many things to enhance the community by doing good in the hospital. In addition to being a close friend and colleague, Mr. Abraham was the executor of Dr. Birsner’s estate.

“Harvey traveled to 99 countries during his lifetime,” he said. “In addition to being well traveled, he was well read and had a great taste for wines. He had a quick sense of humor and a kind heart. Every Saturday, he bought and personally delivered food to poor children. He encouraged youth to ‘go to school, get an education,’ and put a number of young people through school. There was a gruff, funny, professional side of Harvey, but there was also a very human, personal side as well.”

Mr. Abraham believes that Dr. Birsner would be pleased with the impact his bequest has made on the future of medicine and the support of excellence in neurological surgery.

Dr. Birsner felt his bequest to UT Southwestern to be very meaningful. He would be excited to hear about the progress of the Duke Samson Chair and to know that as his friend and mentor, Dr. Samson’s name continues to be enshrined as an endowed chair at UT Southwestern.

Mathew Abraham