At the University of Cape Town (UCT), the degree of Doctor of Science in Medicine is the most senior doctorate in the Faculty of Health Sciences. It is awarded rarely and only to persons of exceptional merit for substantial and original contributions to knowledge based on publications of international standing. The research must be regarded as seminal – that is, containing new ideas and having a great influence on later work. Yesterday, UCT awarded the DSc (Med) to Dr Warwick Peacock (seen above with his wife Ann), emeritus professor of paediatric neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Peacock, who was born in South Africa, earned his medical degree from UCT in 1966 and then a year later, on 3 December 1967, he was a lowly intern on the surgical team when Dr Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant at Groote Schuur Hospital. Inspired and encouraged by Barnard, Peacock trained as a surgeon and specialised in paediatric neurosurgery with a fellowship at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
On his return from Canada, Peacock joined UCT and headed up neurosurgery at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. There, with the encouragement of Dr Leila Arens, he revived and then refined the neurosurgical procedure of lumbosacral selective dorsal rhizotomy (LSDR) for treating children with disabling spasticity due to cerebral palsy. At that time, almost 40 years ago, I had the good fortune to collaborate with Peacock and Barbara Berman to study the gait of children with cerebral palsy before and after dorsal rhizotomy.
In 1986, Peacock was recruited by UCLA to head up their paediatric neurosurgery programme which provided him with the platform to introduce LSDR at all the major clinical centres in the United States. He defined the necessary criteria for selecting patients and continued to document the benefits of LSDR, thus contributing to the alleviation from spasticity for thousands of children, both in the USA and around the world.
The other area in which Peacock has made a seminal contribution is surgery for children with intractable epilepsy which has also had an enduring impact. Recognising there were very few drugs to treat epilepsy and, knowing that uncontrolled seizures had a devastating impact on the developing brain, Peacock applied functional anatomical principles to introduce a radical surgical procedure for the benefit of these children. For the past ten years he has directed the Surgical Science Laboratory at UCLA for training aspiring surgeons. He sometimes thinks of retiring. But only briefly!