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Prof. Dr. Richard Michaelis (May 30, 1931 through January 17, 2017)
10 March 2017 (online)
With great sadness we have to inform the members of our society, Gesellschaft für Neuropädiatrie, that Prof. Dr. Richard Michaelis, former chair of Child Neurology at the University of Tübingen, has passed away earlier this year.
Michaelis was most influential in integrating aspects of developmental neurology into pediatric neurology. Long before social-pediatric centers were established in Germany, he had stressed that it is essential for the diagnosis of cerebral diseases in childhood not only to assess neurological signs but also to evaluate motor and cognitive development of the child. Also, the work in an interdisciplinary team, the integration of social-pediatric aspects and a holistic approach were natural to him. Thus, it was consequent that he received the first and until now the only chair of pediatrics in Germany 1985, which integrated developmental neurology, pediatric neurology, and social pediatrics. And the corresponding department at the University of Tübingen developed into one of the largest in Germany.
Michaelis was born as first of five siblings. Although the family tradition was medical, looking back he always emphasized that long before medicine his first vocational training was in gardening. Later in life this provided him with a source for recreation and patience when addressing the development of children. He studied medicine in Freiburg, Tübingen, and Munich. And after a short interval in Orthopedic Surgery, he trained in Pediatrics and got his PhD (in the German system ‘Habilitation’) in 1968 at the University of Göttingen. The subject of his thesis was the neurology of preterm and term born children. This was the starting point for a continuous and enthusiastic scientific interest in what characterizes childhood development and its variability under normal and pathologic conditions. Supported by the German Research Council (DFG), he spent 2 years (in 1969–1970) with Prof. Parmelee at the Division of Child Development of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).
This training enabled him to build up a Department of Developmental Neurology at the University Children's Hospital Tübingen in 1971. The aim at first was to center on the diagnosis and therapy of children with developmental delays, including the follow-up of children at risk, for example preterm born children or children following adverse perinatal events. From today's perspective, this seems very farsighted: in Germany, a regular follow-up of preterm born children became obligatory only more than 30 years later. Over the years the department developed into an institution where children with the entire spectrum of neurologic diseases in childhood were treated. In addition to the neurology of early childhood, the phenomenology of cerebral palsies became the second very important subject in his career as a clinician, scientist, and mentor. He was one of the founders of the SCPE (Surveillance of Cerebral Palsy in Europe) in 1996 and has, for many years, been an honorary member of our society.
Michaelis was a universally interested mentor and researcher who, after retirement, concentrated even more on basic concepts of early human development. He integrated anthropological, neurobiological, and evolutionary aspects into his understanding of child development, always keeping in mind the concrete clinical situation. For us clinicians, his input broadened our understanding of the variability and complexity of normal and abnormal child development. We will miss his humanistic approach and his enthusiasm in child neurology for which we owe him our deepest thanks.
The Society of Child Neurology in German speaking countries honors the memory of Richard Michaelis as an outstanding teacher and researcher in developmental and child neurology. Our deep sympathy is with his family and friends.