Muhammad Ali makes rare appearance at Barrow Neurological Institute


by Carina Sonn

Posted on February 22, 2012 at 9:26 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 23 at 11:02 AM

PHOENIX -- Medical heavyweights at Barrow Neurological Institute celebrated 50 years with another champ on Wednesday, Muhammad Ali.

The 70-year-old, who just recently celebrated his birthday, was greeted with applause, gingerly walking into a room full of neurologists and neurosurgeons.

Lonnie Ali spoke on behalf of her husband.

"I can't tell you what a pleasure it is to live in a city that has such a wonderful institution such as this," she said.

The hospital is home to the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center -- the primary beneficiary of the star-studded Celebrity Fight Night, which happens every year in the Valley.

Over the years the charity has donated $20 million to the center.

"The money stayed in Maricopa County, but the tentacles went around the world... and I think that's fabulous," Lonnie Ali said.

Barrow's director, Dr. Robert Spetzler, said a lot has changed since he arrived in 1983, including the number of talented surgeons.

"We were fortunate enough to attract an incredible quality of individuals to come and join us to bring us up another level and we have achieved this way beyond my expectation," Spetzler said.

So what's in store for BNI in the next half-century? Spetzler said there is still a lot of work to be done, but he's hopeful.

"The quality of life for somebody with Parkinson's is much better today and I suspect in 50 years there will be no Parkinson's, but a historical footnote... hopefully the same for Alzheimer's, for brain tumors," Spetzler said.