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Patient Consultation

History of Neurosurgery at UNM

The Department of Neurosurgery was created in 2006. It had a humble beginning, with only three faculty and four residents when founding chair Howard Yonas, MD, arrived in 2005 following a long career at the University of Pittsburgh. He quickly went to work to make the Department the major provider of quality neurosurgical care in New Mexico and surrounding states.

Dr. Yonas’s clinical focus had been in the care of complex cerebrovascular disorders (he had been the co-director of the Cerebrovascular Center at University of Pittsburgh). Drawing on his extensive experience in neurosurgery (including pediatrics) he challenged the mindset of New Mexico doctors, who had long assumed that all “real” neurosurgery patients had to be sent out of state to receive the best care.

The Department was privileged to have Paul Turner, MD, who helped in the transition. Expertise in the endovascular treatment of cerebrovascular disorders was brought by Christopher Taylor, MD who started with the department in January of 2006.  Meanwhile, Erich Marchand, MD, contributed expertise in pediatric, epilepsy and movement disorder surgery. Later, Fred Harrington, MD, arrived with expertise in spine surgery, along with Peter Shin, MD, who has a similar focus and expertise.

Three graduates of the program have joined the Department with Suguna Pappu, MD, initially taking a leadership role at the Raymond G. Murphy Veterans Affairs Medical Center,, and Andrew Carlson, MD, returning after fellowships in skull base and endovascular surgery. Omar Chohan, MD, joins the group after a fellowship in neuro-oncology. The most recent addition to our group is Jeremy Lewis, MD, who trained at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center with outstanding experience in skull base and spine surgery.

These outstanding and collegial surgeons are not only the clinical care providers but also the mentors for a superb group of residents who have come from around the country and world to train at UNM. A program that had been on probation in 2005 is now fully accredited. The American Board of Neurological Surgery has expanded it from six to eleven residents who are now engaged in a seven-year training program.

The Department of Neurosurgery is responsible for many providers outside of mainline neurosurgery. We are proud to have an outstanding group of neurocritical care specialists who are central to maintaining a very high level of care in our 24-bed neuro-ICU, which is New Mexico’s only resource for complex neurological care.  They are key members of our neuroscience team. Round-the-clock critical care coverage is provided by a collegial relationship with our colleagues in Surgical Critical Care.

The Department also includes a division of rehabilitation medicine led by Evan Rivers, DO, which works closely with our spine surgeons. Our expert team of physiatrists focuses on achieving an optimum outcome for each patient.

Minimally invasive surgery has become the standard we focus toward. We have added the capacity to provide the latest in minimally invasive surgery thanks to a gift from Anthony Yeung, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Phoenix Ariz., who is a pioneer in endoscopic spine surgery.

UNM Hospital’s multidisciplinary pain program, led by Joanna Katzman MD, is a unique resource for the state and is housed administratively within Neurosurgery.

Neurosurgery maintains many active research efforts at UNM. A team of outstanding neuroscientists led by Edwin Nemoto PhD, are conducting cutting-edge research to aid the recovery of head trauma and stroke. The department also includes a team of clinical research specialists with one RN specialist and three coordinators who are helping to conduct more than a dozen clinical studies.