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Dr. Perry Black, 88, noted neurosurgeon at Hahnemann dies

One focus was to help patients in pain. "Many have been told that their pain is not real, but we take at face value the patient's statement of pain," he said.

Dr. Perry Black
Dr. Perry BlackRead moreCourtesy Emma Hitch

Perry Black, 88, of Chestnut Hill, a neurosurgeon who led the department of neurosurgery at Hahnemann University for 15 years, died Sunday, Oct. 28, at home of congestive heart failure.

Dr. Black was a native of Montreal, where he earned a medical degree from McGill University. He trained in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and directed a project there on pediatric head injuries.

In 1979, he accepted an appointment as professor and chairman of the department of neurosurgery at Hahnemann, which is now Drexel University College of Medicine. He remained the department's chairman until 1994.

Some of Dr. Black's work focused on the relief or lessening of chronic, disabling pain. He organized the Pain Treatment Center at Hahnemann, as well as a program to manage malignant brain tumors.

"Regardless of the cause, we have an obligation to make chronic pain patients as comfortable as possible," he told the Pottsville Republican in 1980. "We abhor the idea that nothing else can be done. There is almost always something else that can be done to ease the suffering."

In the 1980s, neurosurgeons were beginning to get good results from deep brain stimulation in patients whose pain had persisted despite all other efforts to relieve it, Dr. Black told the Inquirer in 1985.

Surgeons implanted an electrode in the brain and wired it to a radio unit implanted under the patient's collarbone. The patient could stimulate the pain center in the brain with electric current, providing a feeling of warmth and relief, Dr. Black told the Daily News in 1989.

"Many people have been told that their pain is not real, but we take at face value the patient's statement of pain, without question," he said.

As chief of neurosurgery at Hahnemann, Dr. Black was responsible for managing head trauma cases. On Jan. 13, 1987, a young boxer named Randy Jenkins was admitted in a coma after losing a middleweight fight to Darrell Underwood. Saying he was tired, Jenkins lay down and wouldn't wake up.

In surgery, Dr. Black removed a blood clot from Jenkins' brain. By May, Jenkins was responding to those around him. Recovery would be slow. "The fact that he had survived is remarkable," Dr. Black told the Daily News. "It is largely a tribute to himself" (he was physically fit before the fight) "and to God."

While in Baltimore, Dr. Black did research on brain tumors and spinal cord injuries. At the time, he was director of the Laboratory of Neurological Sciences, Friends Medical Science Research Center, at Hopkins.

Throughout his career, he authored and co-authored dozens of scholarly articles and edited books. He convened professional symposiums, served as an expert witness, and lectured widely.

Among Dr. Black's awards were the Distinguished Service Award from the Congress of Neurological Surgeons in 1977 and the Volvo Award of the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies in 1985. The Volvo Award recognized his research in spinal cord injuries.

Although Dr. Black "hung up his scalpel" in 2005, his family said, he continued seeing patients and teaching until last year.

Dr. Black married Phyllis Rubin in June 1963. The couple settled in Baltimore and then Chestnut Hill, and had three children. The family spent vacations in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, where he enjoyed sailing, canoeing, and swimming in Lac-Gélinas.

He was generous and compassionate, his family said, and supportive of his wife's career as a professor of social work.

Besides his wife, he is survived by children Daniel, Julie Hitch, and Amy; eight grandchildren; and nephews and nieces.

Services are private.