Dr. Michael Lawton Completes Textbook Trilogy With ‘Seven Bypasses’
“Just as imaginative architects conceive unique designs for their next building project, vascular neurosurgeons innovate new constructs for their next bypass,” he wrote in his preface. “Creative inspiration and daring anastomosis may join two arteries that have never been joined before.”
Neurosurgeons perform bypass surgery, or revascularization, to reroute blood flow away from complex aneurysms and other blood vessel abnormalities in the brain.
Creating the “Seven” Series
“Seven Bypasses” is the latest book in Dr. Lawton’s trilogy, following Seven Aneurysms and Seven AVMs.
“It’s a mystical number,” Dr. Lawton said. “There are Seven Wonders of the World and seven days of the week, but more importantly, I think the human mind can remember seven things easily.”
It’s also his favorite number.
When Dr. Lawton began writing Seven Aneurysms, he didn’t intend to create a series. He wanted to put his experience with aneurysms down on paper for posterity—to preserve techniques like clipping that are taught less due to the rise of endovascular surgery.
But when he completed his first book, he felt the need to address the other giant of cerebrovascular lesions with Seven AVMs.
“I wanted to do a book on bypass because I found so much beauty and elegance in bypass surgery, and it’s technically so different,” he said. “It’s a constructive operation rather than a deconstructive operation. You’re building and creating rather than taking something out and tearing it down.”
Just as he used choreography for dance as a metaphor for aneurysm clipping and battle plans for war as a metaphor for resecting arteriovenous malformations (AVMs), Dr. Lawton used architecture as a metaphor for bypass surgery. It’s a unique approach to medical textbooks, but so is having a single author.
A Labor of Love
“Surgeons often delegate the writing of chapters and textbooks to the residents,” Dr. Lawton said. “I felt like it was important to have those who have experience, like myself, be the ones actually pushing the pen.”
He approached Seven Aneurysms with trepidation, unsure he could complete a 228-page textbook by himself. He had initially discussed writing the book with a friend.
“Then I realized that when you dilute the experience and you get others involved, you lose that personal voice and deep investment in the material,” he said. “I felt like I needed to preserve that.”
Each book took about four years to complete. When he began writing Seven Bypasses, which is more than the size of the first two books combined, Dr. Lawton had one of the busiest cerebrovascular practices in the country. In 2017, he took on even more responsibility with his new role as CEO and president of Barrow Neurological Institute.
In the foreword for the book, Dr. Lawton’s predecessor, Dr. Robert Spetzler, acknowledged the ambitious endeavor and called it “a labor of love.”
“In this era of multi-author textbooks compiled by expert editors but written by residents and fellows, it is rare to have a series of books written by a single senior author with one voice, many insights, and a refined message,” Dr. Spetzler wrote. “It’s even rarer for such a series to become a classic in the library of every neurosurgeon.”
Dr. Lawton found the writing process fun and energizing. The difficult part, he said, was getting the books over the finish line—labeling the illustrations, submitting everything to the publisher, and wrapping up all of the other necessary details.
After four years of writing the 668-page textbook, Dr. Lawton had people tell him they finished reading it in a weekend.
“It doesn’t seem fair,” he joked.
But the feedback from readers is the part of the process he has found most rewarding.
“It’s even more gratifying when you realize that people are connecting with it and coming up to you later, thanking you for it, and saying how it helped them through a case or saved a life,” he said.
Dr. Lawton has three other books in mind that he’d like to write someday, starting with a textbook on cavernous malformations.
He’d also like to bring neurosurgery to the masses with a book written for the general population, not just neurosurgeons and trainees.
But for now, Dr. Lawton is enjoying the sense of closure from completing his trilogy.
It’s even more gratifying when you realize that people are connecting with it and coming up to you later, thanking you for it, and saying how it helped them through a case or saved a life.
-Dr. Michael Lawton, President and CEO of Barrow
Seven Aneurysms received an award of merit from the Association of Medical Illustrators and was a finalist for the Ben Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association. Seven AVMs earned honorable mention for a PROSE Award from the American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence. He hopes Seven Bypasses will receive similar accolades.
“I really think it’s a beautiful piece of work, so I hope it gets the recognition it deserves,” he said. “Not so much for my writing but just for the way that the art and layout really came together.”
To watch Dr. Lawton perform an STA to MCA bypass surgery, click here.