American Surgical Association Transactions

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1932 - 2016

Peter J. Jannetta, M.D., 1932-2016

On April 11, 2016, former professor and the first department chair of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Neurological Surgery, Peter Joseph Jannetta, MD, DSc, died. Just days before his death, he gave a wonderful presentation, entitled "Remembering Walter Dandy," at a combined Grand Rounds for the departments of neurological surgery and neurology concerning Walter Dandy, a pioneering neurosurgeon, along with Mary Ellen Dandy Marmaduke, daughter of Dr. Dandy.

An outstanding student athlete at William Penn High School, Dr. Jannetta matriculated to the University of Pennsylvania where he played in three sports: swimming, lacrosse, and football, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He interned at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, went on to a surgical residency at that institution, and was the first member of a National Institutes of Health Training Grant. On completion of his chief residency in general surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Jannetta began a three and one-half year residency-training program in neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles.

He then became associate professor and chief of the division of neurosurgery at Louisiana State University School of Medicine, New Orleans. In 1971, Dr. Jannetta was selected to be the chief of the division of neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh and then department chair in 1973. While at the University of Pittsburgh, the concept of vascular compression of the cranial nerves and of microvascular decompression developed rapidly, and a number of other contributions in cranial nerve pathophysiology were made.

Dr. Jannetta performed the first microvascular decompression (MVD) procedure for trigeminal neuralgia in 1966. Although the procedure was initially rejected by senior colleagues, he persisted. And within a short period of time following the publication of his initial report, enthusiam by younger neurosurgeons for the MVD procedure overwhelmed the detractors. Today, the microvascular decompression procedure is performed thousands of times each year throughout the world. Since Dr. Jannetta’s original report, microvascular decompression has become the standard of care for patients with facial pain who can tolerate a general anesthetic.

In 1989, Dr. Jannetta received an honorary Doctor of Science degree, from Washington and Jefferson College. In 1990, he was selected as Vectors/Pittsburgh Man of the Year in the Sciences. He is one of the recipients of the 1990 Horatio Alger Award. In 1983 he received the Herbert Olivacrona Award. In September of 2000, he was the recipient of the Fedor-Krause Medal of Honor, given to him by the German Neurosurgical Society. From 1976 to 1978 he was the Frances Sargent Cheever Distinguished Professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He was the Walter E. Dandy Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine from 1992 to 2000. In 1992, the University also established the Peter J. Jannetta Chair in Neurological Surgery.

Dr. Jannetta is survived by his wife, Diana Jannetta; his first wife, Ann Jannetta; four daughters, Susan Jannetta of New York City, Joanne Lenert of Dunn Loring, Va., Carol Jannetta of Dover, Mass., and Elizabeth Jannetta of New York City; two sons, Peter T. Jannetta of Oakland and Michael Jannetta of Putnam Valley, N.Y.; one stepson, Robert Davant III of Washington’s Landing; and one stepdaughter, Hilary Rose of Ross; eight grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.

Within neurosurgery, Dr. Jannetta is known as an innovator and luminary. Throughout the years, Dr. Jannetta's significant contributions on neurological surgery have been recognized by institutions throughout the world.