While his youngest patients sometimes refer to him as “Santa Claus”–or “Santa Claus’ brother”–Dr. Paul Kanev’s compassion, expertise and skill as a pediatric neurosurgeon are the life-saving gifts he delivers year-round.
In a medical career spanning four decades, Dr. Kanev has treated more than 10,000 children, including trauma victims, children with spine or craniofacial malformations and pediatric patients with hydrocephalus and skull tumors. While hydrocephalus is one of the most common conditions he treats surgically, the large skull-base tumors are the most challenging and are usually very rare.
That was certainly true in the case of Myer Murphy. Myer, the 8-year-old son of Sara and Kenneth Murphy of Enfield, was diagnosed in 2015 with a rare dermoid cyst of the cavernous sinus— a walnut-sized mass that, although benign, was compressing a cranial nerve, causing paralysis in his left eye and ptosis, or “dropping” eye.
In the past 30 years, Dr. Kanev has only encountered six other patients with dermoid cysts of the cavernous sinus, with Myer being the only patient diagnosed with the condition in the last 12 years at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
At first, there were occasional headaches, his mother, Sara, said. “One thing Myer would always do is cover his left eye; he would hide behind his hat or the hood of his jacket. We just thought he was shy.”
But when random illnesses progressed over time to paralysis and ptosis, the family brought Myer to Connecticut Children’s, where they met Dr. Kanev. Dr. Kanev formulated a treatment plan for when the dermoid grew, and in January 2017, Myer underwent a skull-base technique developed in the former Yugoslavia by Dr. Vinko Dolenc, a physician Dr. Kanev had trained with while at the University of Washington in 1989. This allowed resection of the dermoid without injury to the optic and cranial nerves.
Myer’s mass was located next to his optic nerve, which threatened his vision, but what made the surgery even more challenging was his bleeding disorder, known as hemophilia. Hemophilia is a rare condition itself, in which blood doesn’t clot normally due to a lack of sufficient blood-clotting proteins called clotting factors.
“Hemophilia complicates surgery because of higher risk of hemorrhage during and after surgery,” Dr. Kanev explained. “Myer is the only child I’ve treated with this diagnosis who has hemophilia,” he noted.
Myer’s New Life
Following eight hours of surgery, seven days of hospitalization and four months of recovery, Myer, who is now in the 3rd grade, enjoys playing soccer and hanging out with his three older brothers, Troy, 9, Kyle, 16, and Ryan, 18.
“Myer is just amazing,” Sara said. “He’s so strong. Before surgery, he was such a quiet, shy person. After surgery, it was like he had a new life. When we went out in public, he would take his hat off. He was proud of his scar.
“I just think that very special people are put in your life for a reason, and I think that Dr. Paul was put in ours for Myer,” Sara said. “He gave Myer a new life, and we are forever grateful.”
“Dr. Paul is the best doctor ever,” Myer said.
Honoring Dr. Kanev
Dr. Kanev earned his medical degree at Temple University in 1981 and completed subsequent residencies in Neurosurgery and Pediatrics; he came to Connecticut Children’s in March 2007 to serve as Chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery.
His life’s work has inspired two Connecticut residents, who wish to remain anonymous, to establish The Paul M. Kanev, MD, Endowed Chair of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The donors took advantage of the Perfect Match Matching Gift Program to double their generosity and create the $1 million-endowed chair, which will support the work of the Division of Neurosurgery as well as advance brain tumor research. It is a gift that keeps on giving to benefit patients of Connecticut Children’s for generations to come.
Dr. Kanev learned of the endowed gift on his 65th birthday in October 2018, a revelation that left him speechless and more than a little surprised. “‘Surprised’ is an understatement,” he said. “I was overwhelmed.”
“Paul is simply an outstanding physician, gentleman and colleague,” said Juan C. Salazar, MD, MPH, FAAP, Connecticut Children’s Physician-in-Chief and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs. “Since the first day I met him 12 years ago at Connecticut Children’s, he has handled himself with grace, good humor and dignity. He has single-handedly provided life to 1,000 points of light at Connecticut Children’s, translated as children who have been able to rejoin their parents, families and communities. A magician with passion and skill.”
As Dr. Kanev eyes retirement in late May 2019—at which time he will “graduate” to his sailboat for some worldwide adventures as well as volunteering in Haiti with other neurosurgeons—he says he will miss his patients and his Connecticut Children’s colleagues.
“These are the finest people I’ve ever worked with,” he said. “Everyone in this organization is dedicated to the betterment of children. It’s a unique core value—one that I have been glad to be part of.