Central Illinois has contributed to medical advances over the years with worldwide benefits—from discovering the mass production of penicillin at Peoria’s Ag Lab in the 1940s to the first implantation of a bio-engineered trachea into a two-and-a-half-year-old at Children’ Hospital of Illinois in April. Our medical community holds its own with the best of them!
We sat down with Dr. Patrick Elwood, chief executive officer of the neuroscience service line at OSF HealthCare. He was the driving force behind the establishment of the Illinois Neurological Institute at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center 13 years ago. With a 57-year medical career, Dr. Elwood has seen numerous changes and advances, including opening the first gamma knife radiosurgery center in the Midwest at OSF Saint Francis in 2001.
What, in your mind, makes someone an icon?
The Oxford dictionary defines an icon as a person or thing regarded as “a representative symbol of something.” I am an icon for small-town physicians who love their town and enjoy the opportunity to do work that is valued. I feel there are many physicians who enjoy caring for people and contributing to the quality of life in Peoria. I suspect none of us actually wish to be an icon.
You have had a long and distinguished career. What do you consider to be the biggest advancements?
In neuroscience, the biggest advancement has been MRI and the ability to make timely diagnoses in complex illness without subjecting patients to pain and risk. This development was a revolution in care, and we had an opportunity to participate in the early development with OSF’s purchase of a Siemens magnet before the medical establishment fully recognized the value. The other major change in neurosurgery was the surgical microscope and associated computer guidance of our treatment based on imaging, making brain and spine surgery much safer and effective. During the same period, the development of drugs for neurological illness has been remarkably fruitful, producing much more effective treatments for stroke, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis. The past 25 years have been remarkably productive.
When you were starting out, did you ever imagine the world of medicine as it exists today?
I expected there would be remarkable progress. That attracted me to a career in medicine. Certainly, each of the truly revolutionary changes was an unanticipated surprise, but the INI with the residencies and research programs have had a wonderful opportunity to participate in these improvements.
Where do you see the biggest potential in medicine in the coming years?
The opportunity to utilize massive amounts of data with effective analytical techniques, driven by remarkable computing power, will allow us to make very scientific, highly individualized judgments and treatments. Treatment will no longer be based on rather crude statistics—with treatment given that is effective in 65 percent of patients, but administered to 100 percent of patients, thus providing an ineffective treatment in 35 percent of the patients. Cancers, infections and degenerative diseases will be managed on the basis of very specific genetic identifications with “big data” evidence. The thrilling part is much of that will occur relatively soon.
If you had it to do over, would you do the same thing with your career?
I have been blessed with essentially multiple careers: I spent the ‘60s learning neurosurgery and developing microsurgery, the ‘70s involved in medical student education, the ‘80s involved in neurological and neurosurgical residencies and graduate education, and for the past ten years, I have enjoyed the development of the Illinois Neurological Institute as a clinical, educational and research center. The next challenge is application of much of this rather specialized knowledge to improvement of the entire population, a rather recent change in medicine’s collective responsibility.
Anything else you think people should know?
I would like them to know that the Illinois Neurological Institute offers remarkable opportunities for care of brain tumor, stroke, epilepsy, spinal conditions and virtually all illnesses of the nervous system. We were the second center in the nation to be accredited as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, for example. We are participating in brain tumor trials with MD Anderson and Columbia in New York, and our Vertigo Center is participating in a trial with Johns Hopkins. Peoria and OSF HealthCare have been very supportive in the effort to develop clinical care, research and education in neurological illness, and I feel coming here was remarkable luck! iBi
Shelli Dankoff is the senior media relations specialist at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.