Arnold Menezes, the world-renowned neurosurgeon and clinician who marks 50 years of service at the University of Iowa, has treated thousands of people throughout his career. Two former patients share how he changed their lives.
David Pedersen
Liz Martin
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Maria Davis Hochstedler, physician assistant in the vascular surgery clinic at UI Heart and Vascular Center, visits with longtime University of Iowa neurosurgeon Arnold Menezes. She was treated by Menezes after a diagnosis of Chiari malformation and Klippel Feil syndrome in 1999. “Dr. Menezes’s surgical and professional skills have positively impacted my daily life and very much influenced the person I am,” she says.

In his 50 years at the University of Iowa, Arnold Menezes, MBBS, has transformed understanding and surgical approaches of the craniocervical junction—the area where the skull meets the spine. The pioneering neurosurgeon has treated thousands of patients throughout his career from across America and around the world. 

The impact Menezes has had on their lives is immeasurable—but based on correspondence from his patients and their families over the years, one would easily surmise he’s achieved legendary status.

“Graduation invitations, wedding invitations, reunions—lots of them,” Menezes says. “So many of the families stay in touch. And so many of the patients have gone on to do great things in life.”

One such former patient can be found working at UI Hospitals & Clinics.

In 1999, Jane Noble Davis and Craig Davis of Washington, Iowa, turned to Menezes to treat their 8-year-old daughter, Maria, for Chiari malformation, a defect in the cerebellum that extends brain tissue into the spinal canal, and Klippel Feil syndrome, a birth disorder in which two or more vertebrae in the neck are abnormally joined.

Now a certified physician assistant in the vascular surgery clinic at UI Heart and Vascular Center, Maria Davis Hochstedler shared, in her own words, her recollection and gratitude for the care she received a quarter-century ago:

“I can hardly believe it’s been 25 years since I first met Dr. Menezes. To the credit of his expertise and remarkable surgical skill, I have lived a relatively uninterrupted and ‘normal’ life since the time of my diagnosis of Chiari malformation and Klippel Feil syndrome and subsequent neurosurgery in 1999.

a surgeon with a young patient

Arnold Menezes shares a playful moment with Maria Davis, age 8, during a follow-up visit.

“Living so close to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics allowed for my early diagnosis and intervention by Dr. Menezes, for whom countless others have traveled far and wide to seek his extremely specialized skill set and extraordinary life’s work. As a child, it felt like my neurosurgical experience was isolated to a six-month experience—a 16-day hospital stay followed by a halo and then two cervical collars. Now, as an adult, I recognize that my experience and interaction with Dr. Menezes were much more significant than my childhood self could have imagined.

“I have been fortunate to have no lasting complications from my underlying conditions or surgery, and I have engaged in a normal life, both as a child and now as an adult. To be honest, I typically forget about my diagnoses and the limitations of my cervical fusion. However, Dr. Menezes’s surgical and professional skills have positively impacted my daily life and very much influenced the person I am.

“Beyond giving me a chance to live a life outside the constraints of my medical diagnoses, he guided my early curiosity in medicine, which eventually led to my professional career as a physician assistant.

“While many of my memories from my surgery, hospital stay, and recovery are a blur, I acutely recall his precise attention to detail and dedication to high medical standards as he meticulously cared for me and all his other patients. These are qualities that I strive to emulate daily as I care for my own patients.

Menezes: Five decades of excellence at Iowa

neurosurgeon Arnold Menezes in a room with a brain image on a presentation screen in the background

What defines a legend? While the term is often applied to individuals who achieve even a modest level of success, a true legend transcends their accomplishments and awards. They challenge the status quo, upend preconceived notions and stereotypes, and change lives through their ideas and their actions. Arnold Menezes is a legend.

A simple ‘thank you’ is hardly enough to fully express my appreciation for Dr. Menezes, who has greatly impacted my life over the past 25 years. I am so thankful and am forever grateful for his dedication to medicine, the field of neurosurgery, and the University of Iowa as he perfected his knowledge and skill set to become the best surgeon to treat those like me.”

Jane Noble Davis expressed her own appreciation for her daughter’s care.

“Dr. Menezes had the exact skill set and focused dedication needed 25 years ago to ‘fix’ our happy, enthusiastic, energetic 8-year-old daughter,” Noble Davis says. “Words will never do justice in expressing the gratitude Craig and I share for Dr Menezes for Maria’s successful neurosurgery story. To Dr. Menezes, I recently wrote: What you have done for Maria’s quality of life and the entire medical world by dedicating your life to a solution … cannot be written in words. I wish you could read my heart.”

Caroline Spears is another example. In 2010, Menezes performed an eight-hour surgery on a 16-year-old Spears, a Texas native who had been diagnosed with Chiari malformation. It’s a condition in which the skull presses on the cerebellum, the part of the brain located in the back of the head that controls balance and other complex motor functions.

Spears had undergone prior procedures at other medical centers to correct the problem but continued to experience frequent migraines and neurological deficiencies when she and her family were referred to Menezes.

Caroline Spears portrait

Former patient Caroline Spears, whom Menezes treated in 2010.

“My medical situation was complex, and we came to Iowa after years of trying various methods to solve my health issues, including three surgeries that didn’t pan out. So, we really needed this fourth one to work,” Spears says. “Dr. Menezes and the UI Health Care team took an extremely complex medical situation and gave me a simple result: the ability to live a normal life.”

Today, Spears is founder and executive director of Climate Cabinet, a national organization that analyzes climate change data and makes climate policy solutions actionable for local and state policymakers. This past fall, Spears was named one of Forbes’ 2024 “30 Under 30” leaders in social impact.

“I am indebted to the incredible team at Iowa, and Dr. Menezes’ storied career, for a surgery and treatment plan that has been game-changing,” Spears says.