Walsh first developed a safer, bloodless operation, netting better prostate views almost immediately. Yet it was his serendipitous collaboration with Dutch urologist, Pieter Donker, that triggered his groundbreaking techniques. At first, Walsh didn't see the relevance to his own research of dissecting stillborn infant cadavers to study bladder nerves, even though Donker was using the smaller anatomies for a cleaner view. But in scrutinizing a fetus on Feb. 13, 1981, Walsh proved the prostate's nerves were outside the gland, and could be preserved during surgery. Walsh performed his first successful nerve-sparing radical prostatectomy on April 26, 1982, removing the prostate of a 52-year-old psychology professor. The patient led a normal, cancer-free life.
Other urologists rapidly adopted Walsh's techniques in lieu of radiation and other treatment modalities. As more patients underwent surgery for prostate cancer, there was more surgical tissue to harvest, enabling pathologists to characterize