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The miracle worker

Performing wonders is all in a day's work for brain surgeon Jeffrey Rosenfeld, writes DIANE SQUIRES.

Neurosurgeon Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld was hailed a hero last year when he successfully operated on Sebastian Selo, a young English boy who suffered from severe seizures caused by a rare brain tumour known as hypothalamic hamartoma.

The operation was complicated and fraught with danger, and success was not guaranteed. But while he made headlines in Australia and overseas for the vast improvement in the young boy, the operation represented just one of 34 similar procedures the director of Monash University's Department of Neurosurgery has performed during his career.

"It is an interesting story, because it really is much wider than Sebastian Selo. I have been doing epilepsy surgery on children for years," he said.

The surgery has seen a major improvement in most of his patients. About 70 per cent of the children who have undergone the operation have become seizure-free.

The talented neurosurgeon was recently awarded the King James the Fourth Professorship from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh for his work on the rare condition.

In 2000, he was appointed professor of neurosurgery at Monash University and The Alfred hospital, where he is based.

He was deputy-director of the neurosurgery department at the Royal Melbourne Hospital from 1993 to 2000 and director of the neurosurgery department at the Royal Children's Hospital from 1996 to 2000.

As well as undertaking ongoing research projects with colleagues at Monash and The Alfred, Professor Rosenfeld is trying to increase neurosurgery teaching at the undergraduate level and is heavily involved in postgraduate teaching in the field.

"This has been a very important chair for Monash surgery to initiate," he says.

"Academic neurosurgery, both teaching and research, in Australia has really been a poor cousin to other academic elements of medicine. Australia has fallen behind the world scene in academic neurosurgery, and Monash has made an important contribution to redress that imbalance."

Professor Rosenfeld is also trying to forge links with other areas of the university to develop research collaboration.

"Neurosurgeons, particularly academic neurosurgeons, need to be involved in developing new therapies, and part of that involves collaboration with other areas of biomedicine," he says.

Professor Rosenfeld is a remarkable man by anyone's standards. As well as fulfilling his clinical and academic responsibilities, he is a senior medical officer with the Australian Defence Force (ADF), chairman of the general surgery consultative group to the ADF and assistant editor of the force's ADF Health journal.

He has also been deployed to Rwanda, East Timor and Bougainville as a general surgeon providing medical and surgical care to ADF personnel, United Nations staff and civilians. Somehow Professor Rosenfeld also manages to fit into his busy schedule his roles as Victorian commissioner of St John's Ambulance and state president and national vice-president of the United Nations Association of Australia.

But becoming a neurosurgeon was not an easy decision for Professor Rosenfeld.

An accomplished musician, he plays all the woodwind instruments, particularly the clarinet, and very nearly became a musician instead.

But while his parents "probably would have been happier" if he had chosen music, Professor Rosenfeld chose medicine.

"To be a top-flight musician is very competitive, probably even more so than being a surgeon, and I wouldn't have been happy being a second clarinet in the Melbourne Symphony, I would have wanted to be an international clarinet soloist or an opera singer or a conductor."

Not surprisingly, Professor Rosenfeld was this year named Victorian of the Year by the Herald Sun newspaper and was last year named Media Personality of the Year by the Melbourne Media Club.

And while the accolades were in response to his work with Sebastian Selo, Professor Rosenfeld said he hoped the work he undertook with the community and his other medical positions had a part to play in his nomination as well.

Caption Man of many instruments: As well as gaining fame as a surgeon, Professor Jeffrey Rosenfeld is also an accomplished musician. Photo: Peter Anikijenko