Lars Sullivan

John Young

 Lars Sullivan was born in Sweden in 1934 and he was a pioneer in the treatment and rehabilitation of individuals with spinal cord injuries in the Nordic countries. Lars gained his medical graduation from the University in Uppsala, Sweden in 1962 and started his postgraduate training at Sahlgrenska hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, which included neuro-surgery, orthopedics and rehabilitation. His primary research area was metabolism and energy expenditure, and he defended his PhD thesis in 1976 on "Metabolic and Physiologic Effects on Training in Hyperplastic Obesity". He published more than 200 papers in this area and supervised several PhD students and became in 1977 assistant professor at University of Gothenburg in Medical Rehabilitation.

 He was a true pupil of and advocate for Sir Ludwig Guttmanns idea of the comprehensive spinal cord unit where the acute treatment and the primary and lifelong rehabilitation is carried out under the ‘same roof’. Based on this he worked for and succeeded in 1983 with the opening of the first and only comprehensive spinal cord unit in the Nordic countries at Sahlgrenska hospital, of which he was head until his much too early death in 1996. In the later years he was disappointed because he felt lack of knowledge and ignorance regarding the necessity for comprehensive treatment of the patients with spinal cord injuries in his own hospital.

 Lars Sullivan was member of the International Medical Society of Paraplegia (IMSOP) (later International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS), and served as Council member for six years, and was on the Editorial Board and Assistant Editor for the society journal Paraplegia (later Spinal Cord). He was also member of the Scientific Committee.

 Not least inspired by Bodil Eskesen from Denmark Lars Sullivan was the real founder of a Nordic branch of IMSOP the Scandinavian Medical Society of Paraplegia (SMSOP) (later Nordic Spinal Cord Society (NoSCoS) during a neuro-urology course in Mariehamn, Åland August 1987. He was elected the first President of this Society (1987-1993), and he hosted the first SMSOP scientific meeting in Gothenburg in October 1989. At that time it was in contrast to IMSOP that SMSOP in its advisory council apart from representatives from each Nordic country included the other professions occupied with spinal cord injury treatment and rehabilitation, i.e. apart from medical doctors should nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and social workers be represented.

​Lars Sullivan was known as an inspiring teacher and initiator. His patients and their organizations highly appreciated his work. Lars wanted to persuade the surrounding society about the optimal way of organizing the care for people with spinal cord injuries, and thus wrote articles in the newspapers and appeared on television.


Stien R. Obituary – Dr Lars Sullivan. MD, PhD. Spinal Cord 1996;34:365.

 This profile  was edited by Fin Biering-Sorensen

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Stoke Mandeville Hospital,
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire,
HP21 8AL, United Kingdom

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