Albert La Londe

 

DENISON ROOTS NOT FORGOTTEN

 

 

“I have received a better education in Denison schools than I ever did at University of Texas at Austin,” said Albert La Londe, Denison native and retired medical doctor. Born and raised in Denison, La Londe was accepted at age 15 to University of Texas, but has never forgotten his roots. La Londe attended medical school at the University of Texas in Galveston and completed his internship at Gorgas Hospital in Panama.

La Londe said the caliber of teaching was better at Denison High School. “A lot of my classes (at UT-Austin) were from instructors and not professors, people working on their masters degree and their Ph.D.” La Londe retired at the age of 90 in May, after more than 65 years in the medical field. La Londe has participated and seen many historical events and breakthroughs in medical history. According to the Travis County Medical Journal, La Londe participated in the first intracranial surgery in Austin. He was there when the victims from Charles Whitman’s tower shooting-spree sent ambulances caring the wounded to hospitals. He was also there during the Vietnam and Korean wars as a neurological consultant at Lackland and Bergstrom Air Force bases. In 1985, the Austin City Council declared Jan. 10, as Dr. Albert A. La Londe Day to recognize his almost 40-year contribution to the city.

The youngest of eight children and the son of a Denison locomotive engineer and a housewife, La Londe said that when he was born his mother held him up and said, “I’m going to make a doctor out of this baby.”

“That started me on the road to medicine,” he said. “My mother also made the kids take Latin at Denison High School, which was a great help to me when I went to medical school since human anatomy has all Latin names.”

In 1948 La Londe published the first report in world literature on a new method of treatment for chronic subdural hematoma. Ironically, while doing research on subdural hematoma, La Londe realized hematoma probably caused his father’s death.


According to Wikipedia.org, subdural hematoma is a form of brain injury in which blood collects between the dura (the protective covering of the brain) and the arachnid (the middle layer of the brain). Subdural hematoma is usually caused by head injury.

“It occurs more frequently in older people who fall and hit their heads, don’t lose consciousness and then they think they are OK. The blood then becomes encased in an envelope between the brain and the skull,” he said. “It gradually increases in size with time and in a few weeks or months, this injury — that you’ve paid no attention to — suddenly becomes weak and finally paralyzes you on the opposite side of your body.”

According to La Londe, older treatment methods included drilling a hole to let the blood out, open a section of the skull, irrigate the wound and then put a drain in the skull. The diagnosing of subdural hematoma is difficult because of the lack of knowledge on the subject and patients not reporting head injuries.

“But in an older person there has been some loss of brain substance and the brain may not re-expand and if it remains compressed, then the individual may die. So the idea is to get the brain to expand back into its normal position because that also improves the blood supply to the brain,” he said. “So our idea was to put in a spinal needle — more recently we put in a catheter, where the spinal fluid is. Then we drill the hole, open the envelope, let the fluid come out. Then we let the saline drip into the needle or catheter and watch as the brain re-expands.”

La Londe said the discovery of the treatment occurred by accident. “It happened as a result from an occurrence when I was helping my mentor, Dr. William Garner at the Cleveland Clinic, which is now world famous for coronary arteries,” he said. “We were operating and the nurse called up and said there was a patient in a coma, and so I ran down and did a spinal tap. The spinal fluid pressure on the patient was subatmospheric, which means the fluid didn’t run out — I had to aspirate (to draw) the fluid out. I went back to Dr. William Garner and he told me to inject some saline.

“The patient was on his side and I had to inject normal saline into the lower spinal region. What happened was that his brain expanded up and improved the blood supply to the brain. His brain was partially collapsed and we didn’t know it,” he continued. “The patient awakened after the pressure got back up to normal, and he said ‘What the heck is going on here?’ I went and told my chief, Garner, and this gave us the idea of re-expanding the brain after you remove a chronic subdural hematoma. It was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1948.”

La Londe said his passion for medicine comes from a love of contact with people and the desire to restore health to individuals.

“When you decide to be a physician, your purpose should be to heal the sick and attend to the sick without any monetary consideration. Monetary value should not be the primary consideration. For instance, when I came to Austin in 1948, I was the first and the only neurosurgeon in Austin,” he said. “I took care of everybody, regardless of their financial situation.”

Still residing in Austin, La Londe said there is no place like home. “I always enjoy coming back and seeing my family. I go the Oakwood Cemetery where my father, brother and grandmother are buried, make sure the they are taken care of,” he said. “The city really hasn’t changed much since I lived there.”

Still active at age 90, La Londe’s granddaughter, Nessim Al-Yafi, said she refers to her grandfather as “the walking encyclopedia.” According to Al-Yafi, La Londe has a passion for knowledge. “If he doesn’t know something, then he will go and look it up,” she said. “He is a wonderful man who has accomplished a lot in his years. He really does have a passion for helping people.”

By Connie Harshman
Herald Democrat

 

Home | About Us | Alumni News | Articles | Photo Gallery