With a single operating room and a total of 52 beds, Barrow Neurological Institute officially opened its doors on Sunday, Sept. 23, 1962.
It began with a donation from Charles Barrow, a coal magnate whose wife received treatment from Dr. John Green for a malignant brain tumor. Dr. Green was Arizona’s first neurosurgeon and named the first director of the institute.
As one of only three neuroscience institutes in the country at the time, Barrow drew a variety of experts in the field. It opened with five divisions: neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neurobiology, and neuropathology.
Barrow reached notable milestones early on. In the 1970s, it added three stories to its original five-story wing, more than doubled its bed count, acquired the first computed tomography (CT) scanner in Phoenix, and earned the designation as the only Level 1 Trauma Center in Arizona for injuries to the head and spine.
Barrow acquired a CT scanner in 1975, the first in Phoenix.
In 1983, Dr. Robert Spetzler joined Barrow as the first J.N. Harber Chair of Neurosurgery, which was established to further research and teaching at the institute. He immediately had an impact.
That same year, he and fellow neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Zabramski refined the cardiac standstill procedure to treat previously inoperable vascular abnormalities of the brain.
In 1985, Dr. Spetzler established the Neuroscience Publications department and the official journal of Barrow, known as the BNI Quarterly.
“He insisted that we have a Neuroscience Publications department,” said Dr. Volker Sonntag, who began operating at Barrow in 1978. “It’s very difficult to publish papers and books, but if you have an excellent publications department like we do, it makes it easier.”
The following year, Dr. Spetzler succeeded Dr. Green as director of Barrow.
“With Dr. Spetzler’s leadership, I think we really skyrocketed,” Dr. Sonntag recalled. “Barrow changed tremendously from a neighborhood, minimally known institution to having a worldwide reputation.”
During Dr. Spetzler’s tenure, Barrow opened several specialty neurology clinics, a 70,000-square-foot neuroscience research center, the largest epilepsy monitoring unit in the state, the first CyberKnife radiosurgery center in the Southwest, the first hypothalamic hamartoma program in the country, and one of the most comprehensive Parkinson’s centers in the world.
A newspaper clip from Barrow’s opening in September 1962.
Barrow became the largest neuroscience institute in the nation with the construction of the 430,000-square-foot Neuroscience Tower, later named for Dr. Spetzler. It opened with 64 intensive-care beds, 80 acute-care beds, 11 neurosurgical suites, 48 emergency bays, six trauma bays, and three magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suites.
Dr. Spetzler retired from surgery and his leadership role in June 2017. A committee led by Dr. Sonntag conducted an extensive national search for Dr. Spetzler’s successor and ultimately chose Dr. Michael Lawton—a former Barrow resident who had built a large cerebrovascular practice in California.
With Dr. Lawton at the helm, Barrow remains at the forefront of neurological patient care, research, and education. The hospital continues to expand, with the opening of a 32-bed neuro-telemetry unit in 2018 and work beginning on the Neuroplex in 2019. The five-story, 122-square-foot building is expected to open in spring 2021 and will serve as the heart of the Institute.
Barrow continues to offer the latest technologies to patients, including the world’s first ZAP-X radiosurgery system to treat brain tumors, a robot developed by Barrow neurosurgeons to improve precision in spine surgery, and a mobile stroke unit to rapidly treat stroke patients in the field.
Two new research centers have opened to translate laboratory studies into new bedside therapies: the Barrow Aneurysm and AVM Research Center and the Ivy Brain Tumor Center. Also taking shape is the Barrow Artificial Intelligence Center, which aims to transform the speed and accuracy of neurological diagnoses and treatment.
Barrow continues to lead in academics, with physicians and scientists regularly publishing journal articles and book chapters.
The Barrow Innovation Center printed thousands of P100 masks to address the PPE shortage brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It also remains an institution where barriers to innovation are removed and pioneering advances in medicine are made.
In 2019, Barrow partnered with Arizona State University to develop a new class of physician-engineers, who will utilize science, technology, and design to develop new therapies and medical devices to improve patient outcomes.
When the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a pandemic and medical centers around the country began reporting a personal protective equipment (PPE) shortage, the Barrow Innovation Center sprang into action. The 3D printers normally used for printing models of the spine and skull began rapidly manufacturing thousands of reusable P100 masks.
Among the first individuals to receive the masks were the nurses in the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit, which became the primary COVID-19 unit for St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.
“In the end, it is the excellence of our talented care providers that makes Barrow so special,” Dr. Lawton said. “Leaders and innovators in neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neuro-rehabilitation, and neuropsychology make us who we are today. As we head toward our 60th anniversary, I am certain that our stature in the global neurosciences community will continue to rise as we embrace our creed: accept challenges, reject norms, and push boundaries.”
Here’s a look at some of the milestones at Barrow over the years:
1958: Charles Barrow, a coal magnate, made an initial donation of $500,000 to found Barrow Neurological Institute after Dr. John Green extended the life of his wife, Julia, who had a malignant brain tumor. He made the donation in the name of his father, William H. Barrow.
1961: The Barrow Neurosurgery Residency Program received accreditation from the American Board of Neurosurgery. "Barrow was, at that time, the only residency not associated with a university," Dr. Volker Sonntag said. "So that was a huge accomplishment for Dr. Green." In this photo, actor Vincent Edwards (left) is pictured with Barrow's first neurosurgical resident, Dr. David Scheetz.
1962: A photo from the dedication ceremony for the Barrow Neurological Institute building.
Sept. 23, 1962: Barrow opened its doors to patients with one neurosurgical operating room and 52 beds. It was one of only three neuroscience institutes in the entire country. It had five divisions: neurology, neurosurgery, neuroradiology, neurobiology, and neuropathology.
1972: Barrow expanded its facilities by adding three stories to the original five-story wing, increasing its bed count to 114.
1983: Dr. Robert Spetzler joined Barrow Neurological Institute as the first J.N. Harber Chair of Neurosurgery, which the J.N. Harber Foundation funded to further neurological research and teaching.
1983: Dr. Robert Spetzler and Dr. Joseph Zabramski refined the cardiac standstill procedure for treating previously inoperable aneurysms deep in the brain. The patient's body is cooled until the heart stops beating, providing the surgeon with a bloodless field for clipping the aneurysm. This eliminates the risk of the aneurysm rupturing during surgery.
1985: Dr. Robert Spetzler established the Neuroscience Publications office and the BNI Quarterly, the official journal of Barrow. “He insisted that we have a Neuroscience Publications department,” said Dr. Volker Sonntag. “It’s very difficult to publish papers and books, but if you have an excellent publications department like we do, it makes it easier.”
1986: Dr. John Green (pictured) retired as director of Barrow and was succeeded by Dr. Robert Spetzler. “With Dr. Spetzler’s leadership, I think we really skyrocketed,” Dr. Sonntag recalled. “Barrow changed tremendously from a neighborhood, minimally known institution to having a worldwide reputation.”
1988: The Loyal and Edith Davis Neurosurgical Research Laboratory was dedicated. Since opening, nearly 150 research fellows have been trained in the laboratory.
1989: Drs. Volker Sonntag, Robert Spetzler, and Harold Rekate made international headlines when they successfully reattached a 10-year-old boy's skull to his spine and drained a large clot pressing on his brainstem. No one had been known to survive such a combination of injuries before.
1997: A 70,000-square-foot neuroscience research center, now known as the Marian H. Rochelle Neuroscience Research Center, opened on the Barrow campus.
2003: Barrow became the first facility in the Southwest to have a CyberKnife. The CyberKnife combines robotics and advanced image guidance to target tumors, eliminating the need for the metal frame that is attached to the skull during other forms of radiosurgery. This frameless approach allows the device to be used to treat tumors anywhere in the body.
2006: The 430,000-square-foot Barrow Neuroscience Tower opened, creating the largest neuroscience center in the nation. It opened with 64 intensive-care beds, 80 acute-care beds, 11 surgical suites, 48 emergency bays, six trauma bays, and three MRI suites.
2009: The Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center expanded, making it the largest center for Parkinson’s disease treatment and outreach in the Southwest. Muhammad Ali attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony with his sister-in-law Marilyn Williams (left), wife Lonnie, and former St. Joseph's Hospital President and CEO Linda Hunt. The center was founded in 1997.
2016: Barrow Professor of Neurobiology Dr. Robert Bowser used artificial intelligence in the form of IBM Watson to identify five genes that had never before been linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
2017: Barrow and the Phoenix Fire Department introduced the Barrow Emergency Stroke Treatment Unit, a state-of-the-art mobile emergency room dedicated to treating stroke victims.
2017: Dr. Robert Spetzler retired as president and CEO of Barrow. He was succeeded by Dr. Michael Lawton, who trained under Dr. Spetzler as a Barrow resident.
2018: Dr. Michael Lawton established the Barrow Aneurysm and AVM Research Center. Dr. Lawton brought together faculty from the departments of neurosurgery, neurology, and neurobiology to form the center.
2018: Thirty-year-old Jovanna Calzadillas addressed the public about her remarkable recovery at the Barrow Neuro-Rehabilitation Center after being shot in the head during the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Doctors in Las Vegas had suggested removing Jovanna from life support. At a Barrow press conference a few months later, she was walking with assistance and speaking to the crowd. "I want people to know that miracles do happen," she said.
2018: Barrow neurosurgeons began performing spinal fusion surgeries with the Globus Medical ExcelsiusGPS. Developed at Barrow, the device utilizes navigation technology, imaging, and robotics to increase precision and reduce recovery times.
2018: The Ivy Brain Tumor Center was established at Barrow to accelerate drug discovery for patients with glioblastoma and other aggressive brain tumors.
2018: Our new 32-bed neurotelemetry unit opened to patients on the 7th floor of the Robert F. Spetzler Neuroscience Tower.
March 2019: Dr. Michael Lawton and Arizona State University President Dr. Michael Crow announced the Barrow-ASU Initiative for Innovation in Neuro-Engineering. The partnership will create a new class of physician-engineers, who will utilize science, technology, and design to develop new therapies and medical devices to improve patient outcomes.
September 2019: Barrow became the first institution in the world to complete the implantation of a Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) system in an Alzheimer’s patient as part of a Phase III trial, known as ADvance II.
August 2019: Work began on the Steinegger Building to make way for the Neuroplex, which will serve as the heart of Barrow. "As we head toward our 60th anniversary, I am certain that our stature in the global neurosciences community will continue to rise as we embrace our creed: accept challenges, reject norms, and push boundaries.”
November 2019: Barrow officially broke ground on the Neuroplex. Ceremonial dig participants from left to right: Patients and donors Jan Lewis and Ann Glew, City of Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, Women's Board Chairman Amy Thurston, Ermeritus Chair of Neurosurgery Dr. Robert Spetzler, President and CEO Dr. Michael Lawton, Barrow Neurological Foundation President Katie Cobb, Chair of Neurology Dr. Jeremy Shefner, Emeritus Professor of Neurosurgery Dr. Volker Sonntag, and patients Sam Schmid and Micah Andrews.
March 2020: The Barrow Innovation Center begins 3D-printing thousands of P100 masks to address the PPE shortage brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.