General News

Prominent Neurosurgeon Dr. John Collis of Cleveland Is Mourned

November 18, 2020

CLEVELAND –John S. Collis Jr., M.D., 89, of Hunting Valley, OH, passed away at home surrounded by his family on November 10, 2020. He is survived by his loving wife Helen (nee Levas); daughter Maribeth (Steve) Lekas; son John III (Katey); grandchildren Michael Lekas, Andrea (James) Cappello, Kacey Collis, and Laina Collis; and brother Dr. William Collis. John was predeceased by his brother Foster Collis.

John Collis Jr. was born in Lexington, KY, and was raised in Winchester, KY, by his loving parents, John and Elizabeth (nee Stefanis). His youth was spent at the Disciples of Christ Church where he taught Sunday school and played the organ. He was an Eagle Scout, who also received the God and Country medal. John graduated from Saint Agatha’s Academy High School in 1947 at the young age of fifteen, and graduated from Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1950 at eighteen years of age. Not only an exceptional student, he also excelled as a baseball player. John was offered a major league contract to pitch for the Saint Louis Cardinals in 1949, but declined to pursue a career in medicine. He graduated from the University of Louisville Medical School in 1955 and completed his neurosurgical residency at the Cleveland Clinic in 1961. After spending two years in the military, Dr. Collis returned to the Cleveland Clinic as a member of the neurosurgical staff.

At the time, the field of neurosurgery was focused on brain and head injuries, and after spending sixteen productive years at the Clinic, Dr. Collis saw a need for a separate department specializing in spinal surgery. Because the medical community was not ready for this new approach, Dr. Collis chose to move into private practice, becoming the first neurosurgeon in the country to specialize exclusively in spinal care.

Dr. Collis wrote numerous publications on the subject of spinal surgery. He helped invent many devices and surgical instruments for spinal surgery, including various spinal retractors and a table for discography. He also served as associate professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

Dr. Collis is considered by many of his peers as a pioneer and innovator who revolutionized the field of spine care. At a recent celebration for Dr. Collis’ work in the field, Dr. Donlin M. Long, former Director of Spinal Surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, spoke of Dr. Collis’ accomplishments, “what happened as a result of the Collis decision [to specialize in spinal surgery was that] John’s example and success convinced the next generation of neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons that spinal surgery was a viable subspecialty. Now the majority of neurosurgeons in practice do mostly spinal surgery … John Collis can take credit for all of this. He was the first to tell us why it was important to emphasize the spine and he then showed us how to do it!”

Over the past 64 years, Dr. Collis cared for over 400,000 patients and performed over 17,000 surgeries. However, the fact that less than 5% of his patients underwent surgery best exemplifies Dr. Collis’ approach to medical care and his commitment to providing the safest, most effective treatment for each of his patients.

Dr. Collis held many posts throughout his career, serving as Director of Neurosurgery at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center and at Lutheran Medical Center in Cleveland. Most recently, he was co-founder and Co-Chairman of the Spine and Orthopedic Institute and Neurosurgeon at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. At St. Vincent’s, he continued seeing patients up until six days before his passing. Even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic he was eager to continue his work, adapting quickly to telemedicine to care for patients and confer with their surgeons virtually. The spine and orthopedic institute at SVCMC continues to deliver care by his partners and many surgeons he personally trained. Dr. Collis’ philosophy of individualized compassionate care will continue in his memory.

Dr. Collis was active in the Greek Orthodox Church, serving on the Archdiocese Council for 20 years and on the Board of Trustees of Hellenic College Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology. He chaired fundraising for Saints Constantine and Helen Cathedral in Cleveland Heights, OH, and the Hellenic Preservation Society of Northeastern Ohio.

He and his wife were longtime patrons of the Cleveland Museum of Art, establishing the Dr. John and Helen Collis Annual Lecture of Ancient Greek and Byzantine Art. They also named the Greek gallery at the Museum. John and Helen were instrumental in the restoration and preservation of a collection of icons that were painted in the mid-twentieth century on Mount Athos in Greece, and recently reinstalled in the new Holy Mother Queen of All Greek Orthodox Church in Lexington, KY.

In honor of his outstanding service and leadership in the Greek Orthodox Church, John was selected to serve as an Archon of the Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1993. He was a member of Leadership 100, a non-profit supporting special projects and ministries of the Greek Orthodox national church. In 2009, he was inducted into the Society of St. Luke of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, an honor recognizing physicians that exemplify the highest standards of patient care, research, and community activities.

Upon his semi-retirement, he became reacquainted with duplicate bridge, and enjoyed the camaraderie with his partners and the challenging game.

John’s love of family, his faith, his contributions to medicine, and to the arts will be long remembered.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a Greek Orthodox funeral was held on November 12, 2020, with only the immediate family attending. Interment was at Orange Hill Cemetery, Hunting Valley, OH. The family will be planning a public celebration of his life at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to:

Saints Constantine and Helen Cathedral: 3352 Mayfield Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

The Cleveland Museum of Art: 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106

St. Herman House – FOCUS Cleveland: 4410 Franklin Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44113

ZOE for Life!, 3352 Mayfield Road, Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.


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