In 1967, Freeman received a visit from Helen Mortensen who was one of his first 10 trans-orbital patients in 1946. She suffered a relapse of her psychiatric symptoms in 1956 and Freeman gave her a second operation. After several more years of working productively, Mortensen wanted a third lobotomy. Freeman did the surgery and severed a blood vessel in Mortensen’s brain. Three days later, Mortensen died. The hospital then revoked Freeman’s surgical privileges and he retired soon after.
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.
Among the most famous cases of those lobotomised was Rosemary Kennedy, sister of US President John F Kennedy.
“By the early 1950s, the lobotomy was the gold standard for treating pain and at the forefront of medical science,” explained Daniel Nijensohn, an Argentine-born neurosurgeon and professor at Yale University.
With the patient rendered unconscious by electroshock, an instrument was inserted above the eyeball through the orbit using a hammer. Once inside the brain, the instrument was moved back and forth; this was then repeated on the other side.
Some of his patients could return to work, while others were left in something like a vegetative state.
Freeman's new technique could be performed in about 10 minutes.
However, Freeman was unhappy with the new procedure. He considered it to be both time-consuming and messy, and so developed a quicker method, the so-called "ice-pick"lobotomy, which he performed for the first time on January 17th, 1945.
The Freeman-Watts Standard Procedure was used for the first time in September 1936. Also known as "the precision method", this involved inserting a blunt spatula through holes in both sides of the skull; the instrument was moved up and down to sever the thalamo-cortical fibers (above)
Between 1939 and 1951, over 18,000 lobotomies were performed in the US, and many more in other countries. It was often used on convicts, and in Japan it was recommended for use on “difficult” children. There are still western countries that permit the use of the lobotomy, although its use has decreased dramatically worldwide. Curiously, the old USSR banned it back in 1950 on moral grounds!
Some of his patients became calmer, some did not. Moniz advised extreme caution in using lobotomy, and felt it should only be used in cases where everything else had been tried. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on lobotomy in 1949. He retired early after a former patient paralyzed him by shooting him in the back.
He found that cutting the nerves that run from the frontal cortex to the thalamus in psychotic patients who suffered from repetitive thoughts “short-circuited” the problem. Together with his colleague Almeida Lima, he devised a technique involving drilling two small holes on either side of the forehead, inserting a special surgical knife, and severing the prefrontal cortex from the rest of the brain. He called it leukotomy, but it would come to be known as lobotomy.
It took a certain Antonio Egaz Moniz of the University of Lisbon Medical School to really put lobotomy on the map.
in 1935, Carlyle Jacobsen of Yale University tried frontal and prefrontal lobotomies on chimps, and found them to be calmer afterwards. His colleague at Yale, John Fulton, attempted to induce “experimental neurosis” in his lobotomized chimps by presenting them with contradictory signals. He found that they were pretty much immune to the process.
The idea of brain surgery as a means of improving mental health got started around 1890, when Friederich Golz, a German researcher, removed portions of his dogs’ temporal lobes, and found them to be calmer, less aggressive. It was swiftly followed by Gottlieb Burkhardt, the head of a Swiss mental institution, who attempted similar surgeries on six of his schizophrenic patients. Some were indeed calmer. Two died.
The practice gradually fell out of favour beginning in the mid-1950s, when antipsychotics, antidepressants, and other medications that were much more effective in treating and alleviating the distress of mentally disturbed patients came into use. Today lobotomy is rarely performed; however, shock therapy and psychosurgery (the surgical removal of specific regions of the brain) occasionally are used to treat patients whose symptoms have resisted all other treatments.
lobotomy, also called prefrontal leukotomy, surgical procedure in which the nerve pathways in a lobe or lobes of the brain are severed from those in other areas. The procedure formerly was used as a radical therapeutic measure to help grossly disturbed patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses.