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Surgeon honoured by U.S. peers credits her 1970s Queen's profs

Surgeon honoured by U.S. peers credits her 1970s Queen's profs

When Susan Mackinnon, Meds’75, was a Queen’s student, she had great admiration for the professors who taught her – Drs. Jack Kerr, Bill Ghent, Ernie Sterns, Peter Doris, Jim McCorriston, Bev Lynn, and Gian Paloschi.

Alec Patterson, Meds’74, and Susan
Mackinnon, Meds'75.

“Those surgeons were incredible technicians, smart, charismatic, and dedicated. They were giants in their fields and they taught me the importance of working hard,” says Susan.

Four decades later, she is now the doctor whom medical students admire. A professor and chief of the Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, she was honoured this summer with a major award from the American College of Surgeons.

The Jacobson Innovation Award is given annually by the College to a surgeon who has developed an innovative new technique in any field of surgery. Susan received it for pioneering work that has changed the way doctors treat peripheral nerve injuries.

In 1988, Susan performed the first nerve transplant, using nerves from a cadaver to restore feeling and movement to a boy’s injured leg. That landmark surgery started 25 years of novel work in nerve transplantation and several other surgical firsts.

The College’s citation describes Susan’s work on nerve transfers as “ground-breaking” because it “has produced a paradigm shift in the treatment of peripheral nerve injuries. Today surgeons worldwide introduce new nerve transfers on a regular basis. By contrast, nerve grafts – which previously added a year or two of nerve regeneration – are avoided altogether.”

So the wheel has turned; the surgery Susan Mackinnon pioneered now reflects well on those “brilliant” Queen’s professors of the 1970s she credits with having a big impact on her medical career. In particular, she remembers lunch hour lectures by Dr. Harry Botterell, an internationally known neurosurgeon who was then Dean of Medicine and later namesake of Botterell Hall.
“He was a very intelligent, enthusiastic, serious – and intimidating – man. I sat in the corner and said nothing and just soaked it all in,” recalls Susan.

Queen’s has had a big impact on Susan’s entire family. She married her classmate Alec Patterson, Meds’74, who’s now Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine. Susan believes he also merits the Jacobson Innovation Award for his pioneering work on double-lung transplants. Daughter Megan Patterson, Artsci’98, is now an assistant professor of Orthopedics at the University of North Carolina, and Susan’s sister, Jennifer Mackinnon, Law’76, is a superior court judge sitting in Ottawa. 

[Queen's Alumni Review 2013-3 cover]