Having attended the University on the prestigious and exclusive Pershing Scholarship, Dawn (Wellington) Tartaglione (’90) is no stranger to elite company. She is among the less than 1 percent of doctors specializing in neurosurgery.
Since her first exposure to brain and spinal surgery in medical school, Tartaglione was hooked. Now a practicing neurosurgeon, she works 10 to 14 hours a day, rotating between office patients and hospital surgeries. During the weekend, Tartaglione is on call about a third of every month to check on patients and perform emergency operations.
Her hard work has paid off through many emotional and rewarding experiences. Tartaglione treats brain trauma and operates on movement disorders such as Parkinson’s and Essential Tremor, helping to control disabling symptoms of these diseases. This often results in an enormous improvement of life for the patient.
“People have their lives changed forever when they can again button their coat, put a key into a lock or drive a car,” Tartaglione said. “Sometimes they haven’t done those things for 20 years.”
Tartaglione’s research in deep brain stimulation is one way she helps patients. In the procedure, electrodes attached to wires are placed in the brain, brought out through a hole in the skull, tunneled under the skin down to the collarbone and secured to a battery that powers the electrode. She also explores the progressive technology of stereotactic radiosurgery.
“It is a specialized radiation treatment to the brain or spine that is based on the appearance of a brain tumor, or tumors, that a patient might have and cannot have traditional surgery,” Tartaglione said.
Before becoming one of the nation’s most exclusive surgeons, Tartaglione grew up in Maryville, Mo. She applied to several other Missouri universities, but felt she could not pass up the financial appeal of Truman. Like many others, Tartaglione endured the rigorous biology, chemistry and physics courses as part of her undergraduate biology degree. She went on to osteopathic medical school in Chicago and then finished her residency in Detroit. Not surprisingly, she did end up married to another osteopathic doctor, but they did not meet in a classroom or a hospital.
One night during her time at Truman, Tartaglione was in a car full of girls on their way to a mixer when a red car caught her eye. Thinking the car belonged to a guy she had previously dated, she jumped out of her car and sprinted out in traffic to the other. A brief glance at the unknown driver was enough to send her screaming and running back to her friends. The stranger in the car turned out to be her future husband.
“When we got to the mixer a guy walked right up to me and said ‘I think I saw you in traffic.’ I looked right at him and said ‘I doubt it,’” Tartaglione recalled. “Well, we talked for six hours and started going out the next night.”
After living in Detroit for 14 years, Tartaglione happily resides in Oklahoma City with her husband of 22 years. She does some volunteer work with the American Heart Association and frequently spends time with her nearby nieces and nephews. This year she returned to campus for a Pershing Society reunion and served as a panelist for an alumni presentation on careers.