There's a knock on the door, and a lab technician enters the room, slide in hand. A child is undergoing surgery for a brain tumor a few floors below, and Phillip "Jay" Storm, M.D., chief of the Division of Neurosurgery, has sent a sample of the tumor to senior neuropathologist Lucy Rorke-Adams, M.D., for analysis.
Rorke-Adams pulls a chair up to her microscope and takes a look. "I've seen hundreds and hundreds of these," she says, zooming in on different parts of the sample. It's no exaggeration — Rorke-Adams, 85, has been at CHOP for 50 years and is one of the world's leading experts on central nervous system tumors. She quickly calls Storm in the OR with a diagnosis: The patient has a pilocytic astrocytoma — a type of tumor that is, in most cases, benign.
After hanging up, she says, "It's good news because Radiology was concerned it could be something much worse. The family will be happy."
Rorke-Adams retired from CHOP this summer, leaving behind a legacy of excellence and inquiry that few can match. Throughout her career, she focused on transforming her field — and much has indeed changed since the day in 1965 that she first reported to work in the converted row house that was then home to the Hospital's Pathology Department. In those early days, she says, she could only describe and document many of the conditions she saw. But now, thanks to advances in technology, she can help to explain them.
"There are so many fantastic research techniques being developed that one can apply to all of the interesting problems that present themselves today," she says.
Solving interesting problems is something of a specialty for Rorke-Adams, who has published more than 300 research papers
on topics ranging from pediatric brain tumors to multiple sclerosis. In recognition of Rorke-Adams' many contributions to the field of pediatric neuropathology, the Hospital established the Lucy Balian Rorke-Adams Endowed Chair in Neuropathology in 2010.
And retirement won't slow her down. Rorke-Adams plans to catalog her collection of more than 10,000 medical photos. She wants to take more trips to New York City (she and her husband, a physicist, are avid opera-goers). And she's eager to learn more about a topic that's entirely new to her: astronomy.
"I don't know anything about it," she says, "and I find it fascinating."
— Jessa Stephens