By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun
April 11, 2012
Dr. Ernst Friedrich Lepold Niedermeyer, who was a leading researcher, author, clinician and pioneer in the field of electroencephalogy and its use in epilepsy and other brain research, died Thursday of colon cancer at Gilchrist Hospice in Towson.
The longtime Towson resident was 92.
"He was one of the senior people in his field at his passing and widely respected. His textbook, 'Electroencephalography,' is the standard in the field," said Dr. Ronald P. Lesser, professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The son of a country physician and obstetrician and a homemaker, Dr. Niedermeyer was born in Schoenberg in the German province of Silesia, now part of Poland.
When he was 15, his family moved to Vienna, where he attended high school. His father, who was outspoken and had forceful opinions, opposed the Nazi racial laws after Germany's takeover of Austria in 1938 and was imprisoned for three months.
After Ernst Niedermeyer graduated from high school the same year, he was inducted into the German army. He was sent to Vienna to study medicine, but after it was discovered that his maternal grandfather was Jewish, he was removed from medical school because the authorities considered him "racially tainted and politically unreliable."
Sent to the Eastern Front, Dr. Niedermeyer was assigned to a Panzer division, where he was wounded twice and then sent to France.
"He survived the horrible winter of 1943-1944 on the Russian Front. He once told me he and his mates didn't care about the army's mission; they only wanted to find enough to eat and avoid capture by the Russians," said Charles W. Mitchell, a Parkton editor, author and historian.
Captured by Allied forces in 1944 after D-Day, he was put aboard an American troopship full of wounded soldiers for whom he cared on the long westbound voyage across the North Atlantic.
He was sent to prisoner of war camps in the Midwest and Colorado, where he picked corn and roused the suspicion of his fellow prisoners because he "attended Mass and read The New York Times," said a son, Franz Niedermeyer of Harrisburg, Pa.
After the end of World War II, he returned to Austria and completed his medical degree in 1947 at Leopold-Franz University in Innsbruck.
Dr. Niedermeyer completed training in neurology and psychiatry from 1950 to 1951 at Hospital de la Salpetriere in Paris. He returned to Leopold-Franz University, where he was a docent in neurology and psychiatry, and acting chief of the department from 1958 to 1960.
While at the university in Innsbruck, Dr. Niedermeyer's hospital received an electroencephalograph under the postwar Marshall Plan, and when the technician who worked with it resigned, it became his task to learn how to operate the machine.
Dr. Niedermeyer's success with the machine coincided with his developing interest in epilepsy and his authorship of numerous papers on the subject.
"He essentially embraced the first generation of EEG technology of the 1930s through the 1950s, and was instrumental in transforming it into an extremely useful diagnostic and research tool," his son said.
He moved in 1960 to the University of Iowa, where he worked until coming to Hopkins in 1965 as electroencephalographer-in-chief, and became an essential part of Dr. Earl Walker's epilepsy surgery program at the hospital.
He held that position until he stepped down in 1990; he retired from Hopkins in 1997.
"When he came to Iowa to take his neurology fellowship, he told U.S. immigration officials that he'd been in the country before, as a POW," said Mr. Mitchell.
In Dr. Niedermeyer's retirement, he continued to read clinical EEGs for many years, write, conduct a Medline search and attend Hopkins neurology grand rounds, where he contributed opinions regarding general neurology, neuropathology and neurophysiology.
Among his numerous achievements, which included more than 240 published papers and five books and four others he co-authored, he studied and named Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a form of epilepsy that he named for the two doctors who had discovered it in 1968.
His last published piece, "Alzheimer Dementia: An Overview and a Promising New Concept," was co-authored with Janet O. Ghigo and published last year in the American Journal of Electroneurodiagnostic Technology.
His monumental contribution to the field, "Electroencephalography," was first published in 1982 and went through five editions, the last under his direction being published in 2005. The sixth edition, which was edited by Dr. Donald Schomer, is now titled "Niedermeyer's Electroencephalography."
Mr. Mitchell, who at the time was an editor at Lippincott Williams & Wilkens, now part of Wolters Kluwer, a Dutch publishing and multimedia conglomerate at Camden Yards, worked closely with Dr. Niedermeyer on several editions of "Electroencephalogy."
"He was a fascinating fellow. I loved two things in particular about him: his Renaissance mind that had command of so much about so many things, and his life story," said Mr. Mitchell.
"He could converse in detail not only about medicine, science and the brain, the crux of our association, but his mind also ranged in depth across the American Civil War, Mozart's operas and the batting prowess of Oriole players."
Dr. Niedermeyer, who had lived for many years on Colonial Court in Towson before moving to the Pickersgill retirement community in 2010, was a talented classical pianist, who enjoyed attending concerts of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.
He was an avid hiker and mountaineer and during his lifetime had climbed 144 mountains. He continued walking a mile a day into his 10th decade.
Dr. Niedermeyer was an active communicant of Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church, Baltimore and Ware avenues, Towson, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Thursday.
In addition to his son, Dr. Niedermeyer is survived by his wife of 65 years, the former Anni Payr; three other sons, Karl Niedermeyer of Baltimore, Thomas Niedermeyer of Innsbruck, and Paul Niedermeyer of Eugene, Ore; a daughter, Ruth Andersson of Anchorage, Alaska; a brother, Hans Niedermeyer of Athens, Greece; a sister, Maria Schaetz of Krems, Austria; and six grandchildren.
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