Robert J. Maciunas

Robert J. Maciunas

Robert MaciunasCHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Dr. Robert J. Maciunas pioneered several techniques for brain surgery and made worldwide news for helping patients with Tourette's syndrome

Maciunas died Tuesday at Judson University Circle after a long struggle with cancer. He was 55.

In 2004, he became the first surgeon in North America to implant a deep brain stimulator-- a sort of pacemaker-- to treat Tourette's syndrome, which can cause uncontrollable motions and outcries. The patient, Jeff Matovic of Lyndhurst, recovered far beyond predictions, and the surgeon discussed the results on several national television shows.

Maciunas had already helped to develop radiation surgery and imaging techniques for more invasive surgery. He once called his work an "equal mix of high science and high art."

He was vice chair of neurological surgery at Case Western Reserve University and director of a couple of programs at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

Dr. Warren Selman, the department chair, said, "He was an extremely gifted surgeon, but some of his passion was coming up with novel treatments. He was deeply committed to his patients and to training the next generation of neurosurgeons to do things even better in the future."

Maciunas (pronounced mat-SOON-us) was a grandson of a health minister in free Lithuania. His mother practiced dentistry in Lithuania, and his father taught surgery there. The parents moved to Chicago with three girls before Maciunas' birth.

He earned a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and a medical degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He trained at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He joined Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1986 and directed a brain tumor clinic and a surgical program there. He also became chief of neurosurgery at Nashville's VA Hospital and led work to use imagery to guide surgery, a common practice today.

In 1999, Maciunas became chair of neurosurgery at the University of Rochester in New York. Two years later, he moved to Chester Township and joined Case Western and University Hospitals. He directed Case Medical Center's epilepsy surgery and its Center for Image-Guided Neurosurgery.

He shared in six patents and was a leading author or editor of seven books. He also wrote or co-wrote 25 chapters for other books and more than 100 articles and proceedings. He was on three editorial boards for journals.

He was certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery and elected to the Society of Neurological Surgeons. He helped start a STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Medicine) program at Hawken School, which later named the program's annual symposium for him.

Maciunas experimented cautiously with patients, including the ones with Tourette's.

"These are fragile people who are tremendously ill," he told The Plain Dealer in 2008. "It's unfair to them to prematurely start doing these surgeries out of empathy without having the data in hand to know for certain that we're doing the right thing."

Maciunas liked to read poetry, fiction, natural history and more. He also took photographs and listened to classical music, especially Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. He made drawings for friends and illustrated the cover of a musical album.

In 2008, he made more headlines for successful brain surgery on a Canton mother after the Caesarian delivery of her baby.