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Honoring a neurosurgery pioneer

Harry A. Kaplan, M.D., Medical School Class of 1938, became a noted neurosurgeon in New York.

Lifetime New Yorker continues legacy of a ‘Minnesotan in exile’

The story of how Julia Neubart, a 95-year-old New Yorker who has never set foot in Minnesota, came to give half a million dollars to the University of Minnesota Department of Neurosurgery sounds like something from a novel.

Miss Neubart, as she was called throughout her career, worked for nearly 40 years with Harry A. Kaplan, M.D., a neurosurgeon who performed pioneering work in stroke, head trauma, and brain anatomy. Neubart helped Kaplan prepare dozens of papers, three books, and nine book chapters during his career at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn (part of the State University of New York system) and later at the New Jersey Medical School.

Over the years, the two — neither of whom married — became close friends. Kaplan regularly joined Neubart’s family for holidays. But his roots remained firmly in Minnesota. Born in Duluth, Kaplan earned his medical degree at the University of Minnesota in 1938. “He lived in New York for 40 or 50 years, but he was always a Minnesotan in exile,” Neubart says.

She recalls that his family gathered every summer at their cabin on Bearskin Lake in northern Minnesota. “I was invited to go many times, but it wasn’t my cup of tea,” Neubart says. “I was afraid to go up into that wilderness. It was very primitive. They had an outhouse and ate outside.”

Neubart continued to look after Kaplan once he retired. When he became ill, Kaplan placed his estate in her name. Now, honoring Kaplan’s wishes and his life work, she has given $500,000 to the Department of Neurosurgery.

“I don’t want credit for that,” Neubart says. “I was merely the caretaker of his money.”

Ramachandra Tummala, M.D., holds the Harry A. Kaplan Professorship, established by Kaplan’s close friend Julia Neubart.

The Harry A. Kaplan Professorship, awarded to assistant professor of neurosurgery Ramachandra Tummala, M.D., last fall, supports work in Kaplan’s areas of expertise. Tummala recently completed fellowship training in surgery for cerebrovascular diseases, aneurysms, arterial venous malformations, carotid artery stenosis, and other causes of stroke.

“It’s pretty unusual for someone at the assistant professor level to have an endowed position,” notes department chair Stephen Haines, M.D. “Because Dr. Tummala brings new technologies and techniques to the Medical School, this endowment is very important.”

In accepting the position, Tummala was happy to return to the department where he had completed his residency. “I learned all the fundamentals of what it takes to be a competent neurosurgeon here,” he says. “I am grateful for the opportunity to return as a member of the faculty.”

Tummala’s clinical practice includes treating patients through the Minnesota Stroke Initiative—a collaboration of the University of Minnesota; University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview; and Hennepin County Medical Center—to provide comprehensive care to people who’ve had a stroke. The endowment will also help fund Tummala’s research on preventing and treating aneurysms and strokes.

Neubart is pleased to know that her gift is supporting Tummala and that he, in turn, is continuing the important work of Harry Kaplan. And she trusts that her long-held image of Kaplan is an equally fitting description of Tummala: “He was a true scholar and scientist,” she says.

By Lee Engfer

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