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P. David Adelson, MD

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Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Director of Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children's Hospital, Diane and Bruce Halle Endowed Chair in Pediatric Neurosciences

P. David Adelson, MD



Areas of Expertise

  • Vasc. Malformation Traumatic Brain Inj. Ped. Neurosurgery Neurocritical Care Epilepsy Chiari Malformation Brain Tumors Brachial Plexus Inj.


Phoenix Children's Hospital - Main
1919 E. Thomas Rd., Phoenix, Arizona 85016

About P. David Adelson, MD

P. David Adelson, MD, FAAP, FACS, FAANS is the Director of Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children's Hospital, Diane and Bruce Halle Endowed Chair for Pediatric Neurosciences and Chief of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Phoenix Children's Hospital. Receiving his undergraduate and medical degrees from Columbia University, he completed his neurosurgical residency at UCLA in 1993 under Donald P. Becker. He then completed his pediatric neurosurgery fellowship at Children's Hospital of Boston and Harvard Medical School under the guidance of R. Michael Scott and Peter McL. Black, finishing in 1994. He then joined the faculty at University of Pittsburgh in the Department of Neurosurgery with Peter Janetta and L. Dade Lunsford. He moved quickly up through the ranks from Assistant Professor to Full Professor (with Tenure) in 2003. In 2007, he was awarded the A. Leland Albright Endowed Chair as Professor of Neurosurgery/Pediatric Neurosurgery at the University of Pittsburgh and Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Adelson was then recruited to Phoenix Children's Hospital in 2009 to begin what was then known as the Children's Neuroscience Institute at Phoenix Children's Hospital and tasked with building the most comprehensive state-of-the-art multi-disciplinary neuroscience institute for children in the Southwest. Due to its rapid growth and the eventual alliance with St. Joseph's Hospital/ Dignity Health in 2011, he assumed the leadership of the reorganized Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children's Hospital that has since become one of the top pediatric neuroscience programs in the country under his guidance. Dr. Adelson is presently, the Director of Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children's Hospital, the Diane and Bruce Halle Endowed Chair for Children's Neurosciences, Chief, Pediatric Neurosurgery, Professor of Child Health/ Neurosurgery at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, Professor of Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic, and Adjunct Professor at Arizona State University in the School of Biological Systems Engineering.

Dr. Adelson is a globally recognized expert in the area of pediatric brain, spine/ spinal cord, and peripheral nerve injury, in particular acute clinical management of traumatically brain injured children as well as regenerative and restorative neuroscience. His clinical specialties additionally include the diagnosis and surgical management of pediatric neurological diseases and disorders including epilepsy, brachial plexus and peripheral nerve, neurovascular, Chiari malformations and syringomyelia and brain tumors. He continues to participate in an active basic science laboratory in translational neurotrauma with a focus on neuroplasticity along with a collaboration at Arizona State University in neural machine interface. He is active in clinical research having begun the NIH Funded Pediatric Traumatic Brain Injury Consortium through both Phase II and Phase III clinical trials on hypothermia following severe traumatic brain injury and more recently expanded his research focus into the areas of mechanisms of epilepsy, neural recovery, neurocritical care and restorative/functional neuroscience.

He is the recipient of multiple awards, including Best Doctors in America (Top 1%) through multiple years, Surgeon of the Year 2011 (Phoenix), and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons Clinical Investigation Award. In 2009, he served as President for the Congress of Neurological Surgeons. In 2016, he was the first pediatric neurosurgeon to be awarded the highly coveted Herbert Olivecrona Award, considered by some to be the Nobel Prize of Neurosurgery", by the Department of Clinical Neuroscience/Neurosurgery at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. Dr. Adelson was chosen for this honor due to his vast clinical and research contributions to the field of pediatric neurosurgery and significant work in pediatric neuroscience research. He was elected to the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons in 2011, as an Honorary Member of El Sociedad Espa ola de Neurocirugia (the Spanish Neurosurgical Society) in 2017 and as Coordinator of Committee Activity for the World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies (WFNS) in 2017. As a leading institution, Barrow at Phoenix Children's has also become a place where neurosurgeons from around the world come to learn about Pediatric Neurosurgery and is currently a Collaborative Center for Pediatric Neurosurgery with the WFNS. Dr. Adelson's research has resulted in his authoring more than 210 peer-reviewed journal articles and 40 book chapters. He also has edited 8 books including the well-regarded, Principles and Practice of Pediatric Neurosurgery, the authoritative textbook in the field of pediatric neurosurgery, now in its 3rd Edition.

Married for over 25 years to Barbara Jean Adelson, he also has 5 children, Casey (Sam Brown), Brittany, David, Samuel, and Richard. He enjoys traveling, reading, golf, and hiking. He is still trying to learn Spanish.

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Education & Training

Board Certification

Neurological Surgery; Pediatric Neurosurgery; Adolescent Medicine

Medical School / Education

College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY


UCLA School of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA


(Pediatric Neurosurgery) Children's Hospital of Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Academic Affiliations

Adjunct faculty, School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, Arizona State University; Affiliate Research Faculty, Arizona Emergency Medicine research Center, University of Arizona Tucson; Clinical Professor of Surgery/Neurosurgery, University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, Department of Child Health

Professional Affiliations

Member of American Academy of Neurological Surgeons; Section of Neurological Surgery, American Academy of Pediatrics; American Association of Neurological Surgeons; Executive Committee for the American College of Surgeons; American Epilepsy Society; American Society of Pediatric Neurosurgeons; Hydrocephalus Association; International Neurotrauma Society; International Society for Pediatric Neurosurgery; Joint Section of Pediatric Neurosurgery; Joint Section on Neurotrauma and Critical Care; Councilor for the National Neurotrauma Society; Society of University Neurosurgeons; American Medical Association Member; American Association of Neurological Surgeons (ANS) Annual Meeting Committee; Scientific Program Committee, Chairman, Program Evaluation; Congress of Neurological Surgeons, International Division, Senior Advisor; Congress of Neurological Surgeons, Washington Committee, Quality Impact Workgroup and Strategic Planning Committee; National Trauma Institute, Board of Directors Charter Member; World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies, Vice Chair, Committee for International Initiatives; Alternative Delegate, World Federation of Neurosurgical Societies World Congress Meeting


  • US-News, Top-Doc, Castle-Connolly, Best-Doc
  • Top-Doc,Best-Doc,US-News,Castle-Connolly

Questions & Answers

What led you to your career as a neurology doctor/surgeon?
I was always afraid of being bored. With neurosciences, I would never have all the answers. Also, I loved being around the best and brightest."

What is the best thing about your job?
The children are the best. They are so positive and want to get better and do things, not be in a hospital. Despite all we do to heal children, the parents are the worse for the wear and tear. The kids, they bounce back and just want to get on with their lives.

Have you received a special gift of thanks or piece of artwork from a child?
Yes, I have received a number of gifts throughout the years, pictures, stuffed animals, paintings, etc. The most touched though I have felt is a gift from a family whose child passed away recently, a St. Luke's medal, and protector of physicians. While not Catholic, I felt that when that child passed away, a piece of me went with her. The gift of thanks back to me, made me feel that it was okay.

What is your favorite children's book?
Where the Wild Things Are! By Maurice Sendak, by far! "The night Max wore his wolf suit ..."

How do you go about calming a child's fears?
Aside from the wonderful work of the Child Life team? I try to get down to their level. The issues and problems are all about them so it is most important that everything we do be about the child, and make them feel safe. It is important to let them know we are there to help, that we want to make them feel better, we will do the best we can, and get them back to their lives of growing and having fun. That is why we always try and deliver patient-centric care and not just talk about it!

How do you build trust with a parent?
I try and focus on the reason we are here, which is to help their child and that we will do the best we can both medical and through the process make it as easy as possible in a very stressful situation. I go over things in great detail and ensure that I have answered all of their questions before I leave and then ensure that there is not anything else our team, our hospital or I can do for them, medical or non-medical. I also give out to them my email since it goes right to my phone and allows them to access me whenever they want at whatever hour, whether due to a medical issue or if they are not receiving the care or treatment they should. I ensure parents know it is not only the medical issues that are important but we do the best we can to ensure that their experience is the least stressful on them and their child, and that will improve their outcomes.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to read (science, medical (yes I am a science geek) and non-medical- novels, biographies, etc.), exercise, play golf and most importantly spend time with my family.


Research & Publications

Spaite DW, Hu C, Bobrow BJ, Chikani V, Sherrill D, Barnhart B, Gaither JB, Denninghoff KR, Viscusi C, Mullins T, Adelson PD: Mortality and Prehospital Blood Pressure in Patients With Major Traumatic Brain Injury: Implications for the Hypotension Threshold. JAMA Surg. 2017 Apr 1;152(4):360-368. doi: 10.1001/jamasurg.2016.4686. PubMed PMID: 27926759
Neurotrauma in Children (Brain, Spinal Cord, Peripheral Nerve), Recovery and Neuroplasticity; Surgical Epilepsy; Evaluation and Treatment of Brachial Plexus and Peripheral Nerve Injuries