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(Photo provided by Lisa Yacoub)
Rosemary Radley-Smith, a pioneer paediatric cardiologist and early paediatric transplant specialist, sadly died peacefully on 1 August 2020, after a relatively short illness, aged 81 years.
After medical training at the Royal Free Hospital in London and after spending time in Melbourne, she trained at the Royal Brompton Hospital when Magdi Yacoub was a senior registrar – the beginning of a career long partnership. Rosemary was appointed as the first Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist at Harefield Hospital, Middlesex in July 1971. She joined Mr Magdi Yacoub, and together set out to develop a service to encompass all aspects of congenital cardiology to a level of international innovation and excellence. Over the next three decades, they succeeded in this task and established the Paediatric Surgical Unit (PSU), as one of the leading centres in the world, renowned for many pioneering procedures, such the 1976 two-stage arterial switch operation and in May 1982 the one-stage neonatal arterial switch. Valve preserving operations in children and adults, and use of antibiotic preserved aortic homografts for valve replacement, and as part of complex congenital heart repairs, was another area of ground breaking surgery. Harefield PSU was the first unit in the UK to initiate a heart and heart-lung transplant programme in 1984 – achieving a successful cardiosurgical collaboration. From that time until the unit’s move to the Royal Brompton and GOSH (transplants) in 2001 on the retirement of Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, 193 heart and 96 heart-lung transplants were carried out in children (the youngest seven days old), including the pioneering heterotopic and domino operations. Such innovative work attracted patients and clinicians from all over the world. During this time both Rosemary and Magdi lectured widely across the world, Rosemary often preparing all of their slides. Rosemary was keen on clinical research and is listed in Pubmed with over 100 publications.
For over 15 years Rosemary led the service on her own, on a 1:1 rota, including intensive care supported by adult anaesthetists who at that stage covered both AICU and the PSU. Junior trainee support was from adult cardiology, many of whom changed track after working with Rosemary to become leading figures in the next generation of paediatric cardiologists, including Shak Qureshi, John Gibbs and Rob Martin. (A selection of personal memories from former colleagues is included at the end of this communication). Rosemary had a most remarkable memory of all the children she cared for, often well into their adult years, remembering with astonishing accuracy, details of their diagnosis and interventions, as well as family names.
Rosemary helped to establish the Chain of Hope charity in the UK, being a Founder Trustee and later Director. She was dedicated to helping to promote systems and infrastructure for treating children with congenital heart disease in developing countries. She co-led numerous medico-surgical missions to countries such as Egypt, Mozambique, Kenya and Jamaica to evaluate and treat patients and develop their services. For this work Rosemary was awarded the Pride of Britain award in 2001.
Aside from her professional life another passion of Rosemary's was wild flowers - she had an impressive knowledge and an ability to identify any British wild flower. One popular presentation she gave was titled 'How to kill your partner with plants from your garden'. Rosemary was also Chairman of her local Parish Council and a Tree Warden.
Rosemary will be much missed and fondly remembered by all the staff she worked with, the doctors that she trained and, most of all, the patients and their families, in UK and from around the world, whose lives she enriched and often saved.
Dr Rodney Franklin MD FRCP FRCPCH
Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist
Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Trust
"I was appointed as a research fellow in adult cardiology at Harefield in 1979. After I started, she asked me about covering paediatric cardiology at Harefield when I was on call as a registrar. I told her that I hated paediatric cardiology and was too stressed about providing cover. She persuaded two of the other registrars to cover but persisted in trying to persuade me. Eventually, she asked me to try it for a month and that she would be not too far away if I was called by the ward or PICU. I tried it and then told her I would try it a for a bit longer such as 6 months. The rest is history.
During that time, I was amazed by her memory of patients when I was doing research with her. She knew exactly what operations and when they had had them. It was always correct.
She subsequently was a great mentor and guide in my career. Very pleasant memories of her concerns about my career and advice and support especially when I was in Pakistan for 2 years and she visited our unit with Magdi and the team.
Overall, a wonderful human being."
(Prof Shakeel A. Qureshi, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist, Evelina London Children's Hospital)
“One of the true international pioneers of our specialty and particularly transplantation.
She was a very kind person who was always interested in junior doctors, their careers, encouraging and enabling them to succeed particularly in paediatric cardiology. At our first meeting, she helped to look for a post for me when I was coming to the end of a year at GOS. This interest continued with work at the Deanery in later years.
She was always approachable and ready to offer practical focused and sound advice, which I found particularly helpful in the early years of our transplant programme. She willingly came to talk at our parent support group weekend meetings over the years. When the inpatient transplant programmes merged she brought many good ideas clinically and the combined unit was much stronger. Her patients and their family eyes would light up when she entered the ward.
She was intensely loyal to Harefield, and received great loyalty from her patients, nursing and medical colleagues and that occurred with us as well.
A really good and inspiring person and great doctor, many good memories.”
(Dr Phil Rees, Retired Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist, Great Ormond Street Hospital)