Dr. Irving S. Cooper and Parkinson's Surgery

Dr. Irving S. Cooper (1922 – 1985) pioneered surgical intervention in Parkinson’s disease, beginning in the 1950’s. As chief of Neurosurgery at St. Barnabus Hospital, New York City, from 1954 to 1977, many of his most advanced techniques were developed during his tenure there. 

One British scientist of the 1970’s referred to Dr. Cooper as ‘professionally one of the great brain surgeons of the world.’  Time, People and Look magazines all did feature articles on Dr. Cooper. He is recognized for his innovative techniques and dedication and humanity towards patients with crippling movement disorders such as Parkinson’s.

Almost all of Henry’s therapy patients were Parkinson’s patients who Dr. Cooper operated on. (He only every mentioned working with Parkinson’s patients.) The surgery stopped the involuntary movement – but then after years of being unable to exercise due to shaking, or living with muscle rigidity for years, physical therapy was critical to their recovery. And who became the lead physical therapist?  Henry.

When you have tremors, you can’t exercise, when you shake so much.  You take the cup of coffee and you spill on yourself.  So you don’t use the muscles. The muscles are stiff and rigid too. The surgery stopped the tremors, but after surgery they go for speech and physical therapy. 

One week after surgery, the guy (most patients were men,) is ready for walk. The guys come like this (Henry mimes someone curled up in a ball with stiff clenched hands).  They come to me and another therapist, 220 lbs, and this guy had never stretched. We work slowly, and we stretch slowly, slowly, and stretch the muscles.  The patients screamed in pain; then they scream in joy “I am straight! I am straight for the first time in 10 years!”  In the academy of sport I learned how to work muscles – only in Poland I work with healthy people.  Here in New York, I used the same techniques I used to use with athletes, only I go slower because these people are sick.

Dr. Cooper was a sportsman and he liked me.  We often played tennis together.  Soon I began to assist in brain surgery. – Henry Zguda

Photo is from Henry’s photo album. He is demonstrating his therapy techniques for visiting officials.

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