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William Macewen Brain Operation

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First Brain Tumour Removal in History


"Hi! I'm Kirsty Earley from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and today I want to talk to you about Barbara Watson. Now, most of you might not know the name Barbara Watson, but she's quite a big deal in medical heritage. She was the first person in history to survive a brain tumour removal operation! 

Now this happened over 140 years ago in Glasgow in 1879. The person that operated on her was Sir William Macewen. Sir William Macewen is one of the unsung heroes of neurosurgery and one of the first people to combine knowledge of the anatomy of the brain with surgical practice.

Barbara came to Macewen presenting with a large lump over her left eye and she was having seizures. So Macewen with his knowledge of human anatomy and neuroanatomy, specifically, he was able to suss out that actually there was some pressure that was going on inside the skull and through this he was able to reveal that not only was the lump a tumour, but a tumour that passed all the way through the skull to sit on top of the brain. He removed it successfully with antiseptic techniques and Barbara Watson survived the operation!"