Neurosurgeon Ariel Abud developed a love for art while in medical school in Mexico City. (Photo by Michele Alperin.)

Although Lawrence neurosurgeon Ariel F. Abud’s academic path into medicine was mandated by his father, his choice of neurosurgery and his devotion to art through his Abud Family Foundation for the Arts are his own.

Abud grew up in the small city of Masaya, Nicaragua. When he was in seventh grade, his father, Alfredo,who was in the import-export business, sent him to boarding school in the capital, Managua. After that, despite his son’s interest in being a politician, his father sent him to Mexico City to study medicine.

At that time, Nicaragua’s president was Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza. “Nicaragua had a lot of political problems because of Somoza,” Abud said. “My father wanted all of his children out of Nicaragua and sent them all to study medicine in New Mexico.”

And indeed, out of a family of one brother, one sister, four half-brothers, and two half-sisters, six became physicians, including his brother Alfredo R. Abud Ortega, who is a vascular surgeon in Princeton. While in medical school, Abud, who liked to write poetry and read literature, found his way to art via Mexico City’s many galleries and evening openings. “They always invited you to look at the art and talk to the artist,” he said. “You can spend a whole year in Mexico City and go to a different museum every day.”

Artists he is particularly fond of are Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siquieros. Abud explains his admiration of Siquieros, who fought in the Mexican Revolution: “He never gave away his principles…I was very interested in his art, because his art was directed to the people in general.”

Eventually he began to accumulate art. Whenever he traveled to Mexico, he says, “every time I found a nice piece of art, I bought it.” Janet, he notes, particularly likes sculpture.

Abud met his wife, Janet, in April 1965, during an internship in Toronto required for medical students; they married in July and have been married 52 years. In 2002, once their children were leaving home, the couple decided to establish the Abud Family Foundation for the Arts. “Since there so many upcoming artists in Mexico, Latin America and Spain, we give an opportunity to young artists to be exposed here,” he explains. “The main purpose was to bring upcoming Ibero-American art, but we are also interested in local artists.”

Three or four times in the last seven years, they have invited Lawrence High School seniors to exhibit their work in their gallery in the building next door to Abud’s medical office, which was specially designed as a contemporary display space.

For artists from places like Madrid, Mexico City, Lima, Cuba, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua, the foundation pays for transporting the art back and forth, an airplane ticket for the artist, and accommodations the day of the opening and the next day. “Their obligation is to donate one painting to the gallery,” Abud says. “Whatever they sell is theirs; if they don’t sell, we send back the paintings.”

He tries to buy one or two paintings in any case “so they don’t have to take them all back home.” On average, the foundation invites three to five artists per year.

‘Since there are so many upcoming artists in Mexico, Latin America and Spain, we give an opportunity to young artists to be exposed here.’

Artists come to the Abuds in different ways—direct inquiries, recommendations, or, as happened last year with Israeli artist Najwan Zoubi, when Abud was having dinner with a friend and the restaurant owner suggested her. Abud notes that although he and his wife prefer Latin artists, there is no discrimination and they welcome artists “of any color and any sect.” The foundation is not interested in hearing from an intermediary or representative who is looking to make money from an artist’s work.

Of course much of Abud’s life has focused on neurology and neurosurgery. He was hooked from his first year of medical school when, during a histology rotation, he saw a neuron with a silver stain under the microscope. “When you look at a neuron, it is the most beautiful picture you can find,” he says.

That summer, he took physiology to get a leg up on the next year. He was interested in neurophysiology, particularly the transmission of impulses from nerves to muscles. Fascinated with the experiments they did with frogs, rabbits and mice to see the affects of a particular drug on impulse transmission, he decided he wanted to become a neurosurgeon.

Before finishing medical school in Mexico, every student must spend a half a year giving back by doing some kind of social service work. Abud served as liaison and problem solver for medical students doing their service in different parts of the country. At the same time, he was working on his thesis, which explored how blood vessels in the spine might disseminate tumors.

“The goal was to see the communication between different veins in the spinal canal and connections to veins in the pelvis, abdomen, thorax, and cervical area,” he says. “We showed how cells can go from one place to another through veins.” He adds that this is general knowledge today.

After graduating in 1966, with his wife pregnant, he practiced medicine for a few months in Nicaragua. In 1967 he did an internship at Hackensack Hospital, where he was able to complete the general surgery internship in six months; then, he did a one-year residency in general surgery.

When it was time to do a neurosurgery residency, in July 1968, the United States was in turmoil with the Vietnam War and violence in the streets, and Abud thought it might be better to live in Canada. So he spent three and a half years in Saskatchewan and then six months at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. He eventually went back to the United States for a six-month teaching fellowship at New York Medical College.

One day after Abud gave a lecture on microneurosurgery, Raymond Miller, an internist from Trenton, came up to him and said, “We need a guy like you in Trenton.” Abud’s next question was “Where is Trenton?”

But Miller asked for his phone number and called him every day for a week, until Abud agreed to come and have a look. Miller invited him to come by his house first, where he had planned a party for Abud. “All the doctors from Helene Fuld came and said they could keep me busy,” Abud says. So, he started a neurological surgery private practice at Helene Fuld Medical Center.

He and his family moved to Lawrenceville and in the late 1970’s, to Harbourton, which is halfway between Hopewell and Lambertville.

Abud continues to be challenged by his profession. “In neurosurgery,” he says, “you have to learn every day something new; it’s very exciting and keeps your mind active.”