Charles A. Fager, MD, a pioneer in the field of neurosurgery who entered the profession at the specialty’s infancy, died peacefully at his Wellesley home on Tuesday, April 8. He was 90 years old.
Dr. Fager was born in 1924 and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. A graduate of Wagner College in Staten Island and New York State University Downstate Medical Center, Dr. Fager served as a flight surgeon and captain in the United States Air Force after completing his general surgery residency at Syracuse University. Thereafter, he completed a neurological surgery residency at Lahey Clinic and joined the Neurosurgery Department in 1953, where he spent the remaining 54 years of his career. He served as chair of the Department of Neurosurgery from 1963 to 1984, vice chair of the Board of Governors from 1973 to 1993, member of the Lahey Clinic Foundation Board of Trustees from 1973 to 1993, chair of the Medical Practice Council from 1980 to 1993, and chair of the Division of Surgery from 1982 to 1984. He performed surgery until age 70 and retired in 2007.
Dr. Fager was a gentle and compassionate caregiver, master clinician, mentor, researcher and advocate for his patients who revered him.
“When I came to the Clinic, I had been out of medical school for six years,” Dr. Fager said, “but I had never seen a group of doctors who were so caring toward their patients. The longer I was at the Clinic, the more I realized that that was just part of Lahey Clinic, and still is. Caring and thoughtfulness for people are such an important part of what we do.”
A faculty member of Harvard Medical School, Dr. Fager also lectured at top medical schools throughout North and South America. His early interests and publications were in the areas of stereotactic surgery for movement disorders, pituitary ablation for diabetic retinopathy and metastatic cancer, and the intracranial surgery of large pituitary tumors. During the last 20 years of his career, he focused his research on patients who had undergone unsuccessful spinal surgery. His publications dealt with the appropriate selection of patients, the avoidance of unnecessary surgery, the proper indications and operations for surgery, and emphasized the importance of posterior and posterolateral operations for cervical disc lesions.
He served as president of the Neurosurgical Society of America from 1975 to 1976, the New England Neurosurgical Society from 1967 to 1968, and the Boston Society of Neurology and Psychiatry from 1967 to 1968. Throughout his career, he was appointed to multiple national committees on the topic of neurosurgery.
He made more than 130 contributions to medical literature and textbooks. He authored a textbook of neurosurgery, Atlas of Spinal Surgery, and three books, Quality of the Issue, Stop Talking to the Jury and A Hole in the Wind, a fascinating story about a patient who was so grateful to Dr. Fager for saving his life that he named a yearling Dr. Fager. The horse eventually became a record-setting thoroughbred that was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.
Dr. Fager received the Dudley Award in Medicine from New York State University Downstate Medical Center. He also received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and Congress of Neurological Surgeons Section on Disorders of the Spine in 1992. He served as a member of the American Board of Neurological Surgery from 1976 to 1983. He has given several guest lectures, including the Teachenor Memorial and the Gardner Lectures. In 2000, he received the Gold Medal from the Neurological Society of America, which recognizes neurosurgeons who have changed and improved the clinical practice of neurosurgery. Dr. Fager received the award for his contributions to increasing the understanding of spinal disorders, defining the indications for surgery, and making treatment of patients with spinal disorders simpler and safer.
Lahey Clinic, now Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, established the Charles A. Fager, MD, Neurosurgery Endowment Fund in 1985 to honor Dr. Fager for his outstanding contributions to neurosurgery and to extend his legacy in perpetuity for other neurosurgeons to continue advancements in the field of neurosurgery. This endowment funds the Dr. Charles A. Fager Chair in Neurosurgery, which is currently held by Zoher Ghogawala, MD, FACS. Lahey Hospital & Medical Center also renamed the Legacy Society in 2007, the Dr. Charles A. Fager Legacy Society, for his many professional and philanthropic contributions to the organization, which recognizes donors who have made a planned gift commitment to the future of Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.
Dr. Fager is survived by his wife of 66 years, Margaret, their children Chris, Mary Lou and Jeff; ten grandchildren and one great grandchild. His son Greg died earlier this year.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial contributions be made in memory of Dr. Charles A. Fager to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center, Institutional Advancement, 41 Mall Road, Burlington, MA 01805. A celebration of his life will be held on Friday, May 16 at 12:00 p.m. in the Alumni Auditorium at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. A reception will follow. Contact Institutional Advancement at 781.744.3333 for more details.