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What Do Neurosurgeons, the Founder of Tesla, and Amal Clooney All Have in Common?

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To set the stage for the 73rd annual CNS conference, Dr. Elad Levy, CNS president, invoked the theme "imagine, innovate, inspire.” This theme would serve as the foundation for a week of profound discussions and idea exchanges among researchers, keynote speakers, and conference attendees.


Dr. Levy brought up the awe-inspiring achievement of marathoner Eliud Kipchoge's record-breaking run, prompting the audience to contemplate what drives such remarkable human endeavors. Kipchoge had done the impossible: a new marathon world record of 2:01:09, running 26.2 miles at a 4:37 pace. This feat exemplified the boundless potential of human imagination and is one Dr. Levy hoped would inspire the neurosurgeons gathering at CNS.

Furthermore, Dr. Levy connected this spirit of imagination to the field of neurosurgery, illustrating the remarkable journey the specialty has ventured over the years. Stroke, once a condition managed solely through rehabilitation, has evolved to incorporate surgical intervention with significant improvements over the years. “[Neurosurgeons] don’t undertake a project unless it’s important and nearly impossible,” said Dr. Levy.

Ambitious goals can take courage to chase, but as Safi Bahcall, author of the best selling business book “Loonshots: Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries,” encouraged the audience, “The true innovators are the ones who chase anomalies.” Good teams can reject great ideas, but Bahcall’s book explains that there are tools that leaders can use to push these ideas forward anyway. 


The conference also revealed the pivotal role of technological innovation in shaping contemporary neurosurgery. Live surgeries streamed to the audience demonstrated the integration of cutting-edge technologies, highlighting new methods of rapid dissemination of information. AI guidance, 5G communication, and robotic surgery were also principal topics throughout the conference, emphasizing the relentless pursuit of technological innovation within the field.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Douglas Kondziolka, in his talk on "The Nature of Neurosurgery," urged attendees to recognize the potential in the ever-expanding pool of patient data and clinical trial information. This wealth of data, he argued, should not remain stagnant in patient charts but should be harnessed for further research. “Sifting through the right questions is hard,” he said, but neurosurgeons are on the right track, backed by a history of strong innovation. 

Martin Eberhard, the founder of Tesla, spoke on his innovation journey with the company to exemplify how innovation can disrupt entire industries. From identifying the problem of a traffic-packed, oil-dependent world, to the persistent work of testing every new motor possibility and going door to door asking investors to support his ideas, Eberhard eventually saw not only Tesla's success, but the industry-wide adoption of electric cars. His story inspired attendees by echoing the conference's "innovate" motif.


The final theme of the conference, aptly titled "Inspire," treated attendees to a deeply personal and motivating account from Dr. David Langer, a neurosurgeon and traumatic brain injury survivor. Dr. Langer's reflection on his journey from being stranded on a Colorado ski hill, where he determined with his own knowledge that he was a C5 quadriplegic, underscored the profound impact of resilience and the support for those around us. He mentioned the recovery experience was “the opportunity of a lifetime.” Pushing forward to full recovery was no easy feat, but when faced with a tough challenge ahead, he explained that “relentless effort with no expectations” was “the way to go.” 

International human-rights lawyer Amal Clooney, the inaugural Dorothy Nash lecturer, echoed Dr. Langer’s message, as she discussed her approach to prioritizing cases. “My favorite part of a case is always opening the folder, knowing I'll have to unravel it and master every detail,” Clooney said. She works to maximize her impact by choosing cases that will likely have a ripple effect. She has defended neglected and marginalized groups, individuals, journalists, and even disempowered government leaders. Working in an unforgiving field, Clooney recognized that “there are few bright spots”; however, her willingness to take on intensely challenging cases showed her unwavering commitment to inspiring change and justice. 

All in all, Dr. Levy's presidential remarks not only summarized the conference's overarching themes and primed the audience for an impressive group of keynote speakers, but also served as a rallying cry to all CNS members. Dr. Levy left the attendees with one final reminder: “Neurosurgery is a marathon, but let’s be inspired to sprint every mile.”

Illustration by April Brust

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