Controversial neurologist preps for NU chairmanship

Sheila Burt

A world-renowned physician will help lead Northwestern’s neurology department, after taking a leave of absence from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center following tensions with Colorado colleagues.

Dr. Issam Awad will become NU’s first vice chairman of the neurology department at Evanston Northwestern Healthcare in mid-November, said H. Huntington Batjer, chairman of the department of neurological surgery.

Awad, former chairman of the University of Colorado’s neurosurgery department, will lead neurological-research development and contribute to NU’s “world-class clinical department,” Batjer added.

“Dr. Awad is an internationally renowned neurosurgeon, and when his position in Colorado become untenable, it became a huge opportunity for us to capture him and create a role,” said Batjer, who also serves as chief of the neurological-surgery department at Evanston Hospital.

After several Colorado doctors complained about Awad’s treatment of his patients, a committee was appointed last year to investigate his practices. His privileges to practice medicine were suspended, but he was later exonerated of all charges and the medical board reinstated him.

Awad later resigned from the neurology department and requested a leave of absence from his professorship. Awad, who is Lebanese, is suing the hospital for racial discrimination.

Awad’s attorney, Paul Hultin, explained his decision to leave the University of Colorado to the Rocky Mountain News in a statement: “The ongoing campaign of hate and harassment at the University Hospital and Medical School has caused Dr. Awad to request an unpaid leave of absence from his endowed and tenured professorship and move his internationally recognized neurosurgical practice and research to Northwestern University in Chicago.”

Hultin declined to comment to The Daily on the matter.

University of Colorado Hospital lawyer Joseph Bronesky said the hospital is working to dismiss Awad’s complaint. Court dates on the matter are pending.

Batjer, who was asked to review some of Awad’s cases with other neurological experts, said the complaints against Awad were “ridiculous” and wrote to the committee that he “had a lot of trouble understanding why anyone would flag those cases.”

“(The cases) represent the worst and most flagrant attacks on a colleague that I’ve ever witnessed,” Batjer said. “The cases in review were completely without merit.”

Batjer said Awad will lead research in cerebrovascular disease, epilepsy and neuro-critical care, among other things.

“The mentorship he will provide for residents, students and young faculty will (significantly add to) our academic program,” Batjer said.

Awad was born in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1956. He received a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Loma Linda University in California in 1979 and completed his residency training at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in 1985.

After spending more than five years at Yale University, Awad was named chairman in neurological surgery at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in 2001. Awad also has served on the executive committees of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and the American Stroke Association.

Batjer said Awad’s arrival will increase NU’s expertise in neurology.

“The University of Colorado dropped the ball on this,” Batjer said. “It was … to our benefit that it happened — Dr. Awad will be back on track.”