Top 10 Fascinating and Notable Lobotomies

We were talking about lobotomies yesterday as part of our novel study and some people wanted to know more.

The first documented case of psychosurgery was in 1888 by Swiss psychiatrist Gottlieb Burckhardt. He claimed success in 50% of patients (3 of 6) Burckhardt was met with overt criticism from his contemporary medical colleagues. The next attempt at this type of surgery did not occur until the mid 1930s which produced many documented success stories and soon became an accepted surgery procedure in many countries. From the late 1930s to the 1970s approximately 100,000 psychosurgeries / lobotomies were performed world-wide.

The first prefrontal lobotomy in the United States was performed in 1936 on 63 year old Alice Hood Hammatt by Dr. Walter Freeman and Dr. James Watts. The doctors started the surgery by making incisions 3 centimeters in length and then using an auger (drill) they made holes in the skull over the left and right frontal lobes. They then inserted a leucotome (a narrow shaft) 4 centimeters straight down through the hole on the left side into the exposed surface of the brain. The entire operation lasted about an hour. Some months after her surgery, Hammatt suffered a convulsion likely related to her surgery. However she continued to live with reduced anxiety and stayed out of mental hospitals. Her husband thought she behaved more normally than ever before after the surgery and called the next five years the happiest of her life. Alice Hammatt contracted pneumonia and died at age 68.

The first transorbital (ice pick) lobotomy was performed in 1946, also by Dr. Walter Freeman. Ionesco was a 29 year-old housewife and mother who was described as violently suicidal. In His Washington D.C. office, Freeman rendered Ionesco unconscious through electroshock. He then inserted an ice pick above her eyeball, banged it through her eye socket into her brain and then swirled it around in a sort of eggbeater motion to scramble the neural connections. The family considered the operation a success and a blessed relief. She lost some memory function but was relatively intact and led a fairly normal life.

Read more here.


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