A new Denver neurosurgeon, Randall Zain Allison, MD, has joined Neurosurgery One, a comprehensive brain and spine center with seven locations in the Denver metro area. Dr. Allison specializes in cranial and spinal neurosurgery, neurotrauma, neurosurgical oncology, and minimally invasive fusion and decompression surgeries. He began seeing patients Aug. 1, 2022, at Neurosurgery One’s Lakewood spine surgery and neurosurgery office.
Dr. Allison recently completed his neurosurgery residency at University of Texas Medical Branch, where he served as chief resident covering five hospitals, including a Level 1 Trauma Center, the state of Texas prison hospital, and a comprehensive stroke center. He has extensive experience in neurotrauma as well as neurosurgical oncology and spine surgery for a range of benign and malignant brain tumors and spinal tumors. He also specializes in minimally invasive spine fusion and decompression spine surgery, craniotomy and vascular surgery for aneurysms, stroke, brain injuries, and acute spinal cord injuries.
We asked Dr. Allison about his experience as a new Denver neurosurgeon and here is what he had to say.
Where did you train to become a neurosurgeon?
I’m the oldest of six children and grew up in Canyon, a small town in Texas. I started out going to Texas Tech and had a lot of fun, but it was really similar to where I was from — good people and good sunsets but wasn’t quite right for me at that time. So I made a complete 180 degree change and moved to Honolulu, where I completed my undergraduate degree and then my medical degree at the University of Hawaii. They don’t have a neurosurgery residency there, and I decided it would be nice to be closer to family, so I moved back to Texas and completed my neurological surgery residency at the University of Texas Medical Branch. During my residency, I was chief resident from 2020-2021. I’ve completed more than 1,900 surgical cases with a focus on neurosurgical oncology, neurotrauma, and spine surgery.
What inspired you to go into neurosurgery?
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with a tumor in my skull compressing my brain. I thought I was going to die, but I came out of surgery just fine and was discharged soon after that. It blew my mind. After that, I became fascinated with surgery but wasn’t sure what I wanted to specialize in. Open heart surgery is very interesting, but while it will help someone live it will not help them retain their sense of being. With a brain tumor, if it’s in a delicate spot, a patient can wake up and not be the same person they were before surgery. Neurosurgery is a very unique speciality. As a neurosurgeon, I’m not just saving someone’s life, I’m saving who they are. I like having the ability to help people stay who they want to be, not only from a personality perspective, but also from an active perspective. If someone who loves to hike comes to me with a spine problem, I don’t want to just get them back to walking–I want to help them hike again.
Why did you decide to become a Denver neurosurgeon with Neurosurgery One?
Neurosurgery One offers everything I was looking for in a job — the opportunity to work with trauma and oncology patients while also being able to continue to help fix spinal and vascular problems. Plus, the other neurosurgeons, doctors, and staff at Neurosurgery One are experts and approachable. I think that’s an important balance to have.
I’m excited to be affiliated with St. Anthony’s Hospital with its Level 1 Trauma Center and top cancer care in the region. Plus, Colorado is an ideal location. My fiance and I love the outdoors, and as she finishes her last year of medical school in Houston, we think Colorado offers her great options for her residency.
Colorado is such a great place with an active population. I like the challenge–and opportunity–to help people with traumatic brain injuries and acute spinal cord injuries not only move again but also get back to doing what they love, like hiking or skiing. I feel like, for the most part, people in Colorado want to get better and want to get back to what they love. I can help them do that.
What drew you to neurosurgical oncology and trauma?
I really enjoy the multidisciplinary approach to cancer and trauma treatment. It’s a team effort, and if you don’t have the right team, then the benefit of surgery can be diminished. For instance, for someone with a malignant brain tumor, I enjoy working closely with radiologists, oncologists, and other members of the care team to provide the best comprehensive care and treatment for patients. The same goes for brain trauma or spinal cord injuries. It truly takes a team.
As background, I was an EMT prior to medical school, so trauma and prehospital care has always been a big interest of mine. As an EMT in college I saw firsthand the obstacles trauma patients face. This, coupled with my fascination in neurotrauma really influenced my career. I frequently taught the prehospital courses for brain and spinal injuries during my residency, and I taught an EMT class when I was in Hawaii.
As a new Denver neurosurgeon, what is your patient care philosophy?
Having a tumor and being a patient early in my life gave me a whole new perspective. I can literally point to the scar on my head and tell patients exactly what they can expect from brain surgery. My approach to patient care is to thoughtfully and compassionately help patients understand their options, risks, and benefits of any treatment -– surgical or not. Because I can relate from my first-hand experience, I also focus on what fears they may have.
Of course, when it comes to trauma surgery, I’m not usually able to consult the patient before surgery as it’s typically an emergency situation. I help people survive bad brain injuries or spinal cord injuries, and I do whatever I can to ensure they don’t just survive but are able to resume the lifestyle they choose post-surgery.
Is there any neurosurgery research you have worked on or are currently focused on?
I focused a lot of my training and research in neurotrauma and glioma resection, and championed the intraoperative MRI program in Galveston. During my training, I also contributed to neurosurgical research involving neurotrauma, neuro oncology, and space flight. I am working on a project with our national virology lab in Galveston targeting glioblastoma with the ZIKA virus.
What inspired you to start a non-profit healthcare organization in Madagascar?
While I was an undergraduate, I went to Madagascar and conducted a needs assessment of the country’s medical system. There was a clear need to increase access to emergency medical services throughout the capital city and the surrounding countryside, so in 2009 I founded Gratia Servo to help. I was able to go back to Madagascar in medical school and revisit some areas and see how and why things were improving or getting worse. I really love working with everyone there -– they are awesome folks. It’s been slow going during my residency for obvious reasons, but I plan on working with them to improve access to emergency and surgical care, specifically in more rural areas.
How do you enjoy spending your free time?
I love to do anything active outdoors. I’m used to surfing from my time in Hawaii, and I’m excited to do river surfing in Colorado. I also love skiing, although I’m not as adventurous as I used to be when I did double blacks and backcountry skiing. I really enjoy hiking and backpacking. In fact, I proposed to my fiancé last year on a backpacking trip in Kauai. Besides those things, I also enjoy mountaineering and hope to try fly fishing.