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Albert L Rhoton Jr

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 17 May 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2762
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Neurosurgeon who was a pioneer in microsurgery, and who failed the fifth grade

Probably the best way to tell the story of Albert Loren Rhoton Jr, who overcame a humble start in life to become a leading neurosurgeon, is to begin at the beginning.

Rhoton was born on 18 November 1932 in a log cabin in rural Kentucky in the United States. It was an impoverished and isolated area with no hospitals—and no doctors. His mother paid the midwife with a bag of maize.

Rhoton grew up with what he later described as “little knowledge of life” outside his community. “There was no camera for baby pictures, no electricity, no plumbing, no telephone, and no car,” Rhoton recalled. “Water was carried from a nearby spring. Heating was from a fireplace and chopped wood. Travel was usually by foot or mule drawn wagon on a dirt road or trail.”1

Rhoton learned elementary reading and arithmetic in a two room school house with classmates who attended when their families didn’t need them to help with the farm work. When his family moved to Akron, Ohio, in the early 1940s, teachers there noticed the deficits of his rural education. They recommended that Rhoton repeat the fourth grade but his mother steadfastly refused—at the end of the school year his teacher failed him and young Albert was forced to repeat the fifth grade.

In 2011, …

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