Latunde Odeku was the first African-American neurosurgeon trained in the United States and Africa’s first neurosurgeon. Born Emmanuel Olatunde Alaba Olanrewaju Odeku on June 29, 1927, in Lagos, Nigeria, Odeku received his M.D. from the Howard University College of Medicine in 1954.
The son of a Baptist deacon, Odeku obtained his preliminary education in Lagos, Nigeria, attending St. John’s School, Aroloya and later proceeded to the Methodist Boys’ High School where he took and passed the London Matriculation Examination in 1945.
Odeku moved to the United States in 1947, where he would receive his undergraduate and professional medical education, graduating from Howard University with a B.S. degree in zoology in 1950. He received an M.D. of the same University in 1954.
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According to his biography dubbed Nigeria’s first Neurosurgeon and the first Black Neurosurgeon trained on US soil, written by the second Nigerian doctor to qualify as a Neurological surgeon in 1967, Adelola Adeloye, Odeku traveled to University of Western Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons where he passed the examination for the licentiate of the Medical Council of Canada. He did his internship at the University Hospital, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1954-55, and majored in pathology under the late Professor Carl V. Weller, M.D.
In another biography, E. Latunde Odeku: The First African-American Neurosurgeon Trained In The United States’ Mcclelland And Harris wrote that when Odeku was under the coaching of Edgar A. Kahn, chief of neurosurgery at the University of Michigan, he was so impressive that he was offered a residency position.
They wrote that Odeku was so outstanding that Dr. Kahn promised him a neurosurgery residency position at Michigan whenever he desired.
After spending the following year in Nigeria as a medical officer at the Lagos General Hospital, Odeku returned to the United States and trained under Dr. Kahn from 1956 to 1960, and finished his training in an “outstanding manner.”
Odeku spent the next year after his residency at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., training in neuropathology under Dr. Webb Haymaker.
He then spent the following year studying pediatric neurosurgery at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia under Dr. Eugene Spitz, creator of the famous Spitz-Holter valve for treating hydrocephalus.
In the fall of 1961, he returned to Howard as an appointed Instructor of Neuroanatomy and Neurosurgery at the College of Medicine during which time he became the second African-American to be certified by the American Board of Neurological Surgery, eight years after Dr. Clarence S. Greene, Sr. became the first African-American board-certified neurosurgeon.
“Although he received multiple job offers in the United States, he chose to return to Nigeria where he worked tirelessly, providing excellent neurosurgical care and discipleship until he died in 1974.
“The diligence and intelligence of E. Latunde Odeku, M.D., F.A.C.S., enabled him to become the first African-American neurosurgeon trained in the United States. A truly global pioneer, his selfless service in America and Nigeria opened the door for people from each country to enhance the field of neurosurgery,” Adeloye wrote.
Odeku made a multitude of contributions to the neurosurgical literature, publishing 61 articles in peer-reviewed journals over 12 years.
From 1972, his health began to fail from complications of diabetes. He died on August 20, 1974, at Hammersmith Hospital, London and was laid to rest at St Peter’s Church, Burnham, England. He married a British medical doctor; Katherine Jill. They had four children.