Paul M. Lin, 91, formerly of Ambler, a physician who fled China in 1949 just days before Shanghai fell to communist forces and went on to build a distinguished career as a neurosurgeon in Philadelphia, died Aug. 13 of chronic cerebrovascular disease.
Dr. Lin died at Ann's Choice, a senior community in Warminster, where he had lived for the last five years.
A graduate of St. John's University in Shanghai, Dr. Lin trained as a neurosurgeon at Temple University Hospital. He was credited in a 2004 history of neurosurgery at Temple as having conducted groundbreaking work on "posterior lumbar interbody fusion," a type of spinal fusion surgery.
"He was a premier neurosurgeon in Philadelphia and well beyond," said Richard Cautilli Sr., a Thomas Jefferson University orthopedic instructor with whom he worked to perfect his trailblazing procedure. "He was a fine, fine gentleman, and everyone that met him respected him tremendously."
When he first arrived in the United States from China, Dr. Lin completed an internship at Atlantic City Memorial Hospital, and performed a surgical residency at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, before studying neurosurgery at Temple.
"My father left China with a particular goal," said his daughter, Jennifer Lin, an author and former Inquirer reporter. "He wanted to return to his homeland to become only the second neurosurgeon in a land of 400 million people."
But while working at Temple, he met Sylvia Spina, an Italian-American nurse from Camden, and thought, "Wow! Gorgeous," he later told his children. They married in 1953, and lived in East Oak Lane, and later, Ambler.
Soon after, Dr. Lin enlisted in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and, with the rank of captain, was assigned as the chief of the neurosurgical service at Madigan Army Hospital in Tacoma, Wash. He was honorably discharged in 1957.
In 1955, he achieved a pinnacle of success in his profession. Six years after leaving China, Dr. Lin received the first "Academy Award" presented by the Academy of Neurological Surgery for his paper on "Deep Cerebral Veins in Cerebral Angiography."
"Now, keep in mind, English was his second language. He still dreamed in Chinese. And he won the highest honor in brain surgery," his daughter said.
Dr. Lin's career as a brain surgeon in Philadelphia was expansive. At one point, he had ties to 11 hospitals and five medical schools. Primarily, he was on staff at Holy Redeemer and Nazareth Hospitals, the latter where he performed surgery with Cautilli.
He maintained a large private practice in Jenkintown. One patient was Daniel P. McElhatton, who became a lawyer and Philadelphia city councilman. In the fall of 1966, McElhatton was a senior at North Catholic High School when he took a hit to the head in a football game with Bishop Kenrick High School.
To avoid being sidelined, McElhatton misstated the nature of the injury. But when it happened again the following week, McElhatton and his father sought Dr. Lin's advice. Dr. Lin said that if his father allowed McElhatton to keep playing, it would be child abuse. The teenager's football season was over.
"Needless to say, Dr. Lin was at that time not a favorite of mine," McElhatton said in an email. "Years and maturity, however, made me change my opinion. I realized that that stern advice was exactly what a doctor needed to do. He made sure that I would 'do no harm' to myself going forward."
In addition to his clinical work, Dr. Lin taught at Temple, first as an instructor in 1957 and as a full-fledged clinical professor starting in 1976. On retiring in 1997, Dr. Lin was given a distinguished service award by the medical school.
Dr. Lin also was a prolific researcher. Over the course of his career, he published or co-published 24 articles in peer-reviewed journals and three books, and presented 53 papers at conferences in the United States and around the world.
Dr. Lin, whose Chinese name was Lin Baomin, was the son of the Rev. Lin Pu-chi of Shanghai. His mother, Ni Guizhen, was the sister of Watchman Nee, one of the most influential Christians in modern China.
In the 1960s, Dr. Lin bought a property in Doylestown and later named it Pentalina Farm to honor his five daughters. "He loved our family farm," his daughter said. "In the winter, he would park the old station wagon above our frozen pond and we would have nighttime skating parties."
Dr. Lin had a passion for golf, a sport he learned to play while a university student in Shanghai. He was a longtime member of the Torresdale Frankford Country Club.
After retiring, he supported his wife's avocation as a horticulturist and prominent exhibitor at the Philadelphia Flower Show. Dr. Lin often joked that around Philadelphia, he was better known as "Mr. Sylvia Lin."
Besides his wife and daughter Jennifer, Dr. Lin is survived by four other daughters, Angela Lin, Daria Lin-Guelig, Damien Lin, and Stefanie Lin; a son, Paul S.; a sister; 13 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A visitation starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Aug., 16, will be followed by a 10 a.m. funeral Mass at Nativity of Our Lord Church, 605 W. Street Rd., Warminster, Pa. 18974. Interment will be private.
Donations may be made to the church at the address above; or Ann's Choice Staff Appreciation Fund, Department of Resident Life, 20000 Ann's Choice Way, Warminster, Pa. 18974; or Holy Redeemer Hospice, 521 Moredon Road, Huntingdon Valley, Pa. 19006.