Neurosurgery Trailblazer

An innovator in treating chronic pain, Long launched the Department of Neurosurgery.


Donlin M. Long, the founding director of the Johns Hopkins Department of Neurosurgery, died on Sept. 19, 2023, while flyfishing on a trout stream, pursuing a sport he had loved since childhood. He was 89.

A highly regarded neurosurgeon and pioneer in the treatment of chronic pain, Long was well-known for his skill at performing virtually every kind of neurosurgical procedure, as well as for his impact on pain reduction research and neurological studies.

Long is credited with establishing the Department of Neurosurgery in 1973. Under his leadership, surgical caseloads and research funding grew exponentially, and seven centers of expertise were created.

At Johns Hopkins, Long’s groundbreaking research into chronic pain led to the design of the first external transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulator — now universally known simply as TENS — for stimulating peripheral nerves to ease pain. In 1981, he and Johns Hopkins colleagues announced the invention of the first battery-powered, rechargeable, implantable electronic stimulator. It became a standard tool in pain management around the world. In addition, Long collaborated with colleagues at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory to invent an implantable medication pump, now a standard device used for the administration of insulin in the treatment of patients with diabetes.

He also was instrumental in Johns Hopkins’ decision to erect the Adolf Meyer Center in 1981, uniting the departments of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in one building, thereby facilitating unprecedented collaboration among the specialties.

“Don Long was a true renaissance man and an innovative master neurosurgeon who nurtured generations of neurosurgical leaders who have transformed our field,” says Henry Brem, Long’s successor as head of neurosurgery.