Lives of the fellows

George Lawrence Donnelly

b.22 July 1929 d.13 July 1994
MB BS Sydney(1952) MRCP(1958) FRACP(1975) FRCP(1981)

George Lawrence Donnelly, or ‘Laurie’ as he was universally known, was a pioneering heart specialist, performing the first coronary angiogram and helping to develop the techniques of open heart surgery. He was born in Sydney, but his mother died when he was young and the family were split. He and one other brother were fostered while the rest of the children were raised by grandparents in Tasmania. He was educated at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, where he was an outstanding student. In 1944, at just fifteen, he obtained the maximum pass possible in the leaving certificate, with 4 A’s and first class honours in maths one and maths two, topping the state of New South Wales in mathematics. Because of his age he delayed going to university for one year and repeated the leaving certificate with the same result. His career at Sydney University was just as outstanding. He graduated in 1952 from medical school with honours and was awarded the Hinder memorial prize in surgery. He went on to work as a resident medical officer at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney and St Margaret’s.

Laurie undertook his further training overseas and worked as a RMO at Georgetown University General Hospital, Washington DC, for two years. Here he developed his interest in cardiology. Recognizing the emerging importance of the specialty and in particular cardiac catheterization, which provided the precise diagnosis essential for heart surgery, Laurie took up a position as fellow in cardiology and instructor in medicine at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina. There he performed two hundred of the new techniques of catheterization and was closely involved with the management of heart surgery patients, including the first open heart operation performed at Duke. He then spent a year at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, and during this time gained his membership of the College.

With this background, and recognizing the importance of the new form of invasive cardiology and cardiac surgery, he brought his skills back to Australia, to the Royal North Shore Hospital, where in the early 1960s he was research fellow in cardiopulmonary disease and then National Health Foundation research fellow. Laurie helped develop open heart surgery and, with Ian Monk and Ken McLeod, did experimental work on the development of methods of total body perfusion and cardiopulmonary bypass. He established the Cardiac Investigation Laboratory at the Royal North Shore Hospital and performed the first coronary angiogram there. He carried out important research into physiological alterations during and after perfusion in cardiac surgical cases as well as into valvular and congenital heart disease. Laurie also worked closely with Russell Vandenberg and Tom Reeve in performing important animal research. I am reliably informed of sheep being smuggled into the Cardiac Catheter Laboratory for instrumentation on Friday afternoons after the day’s list was over.

In 1965 Laurie was appointed cardiologist. In 1973 the board of Royal North Shore Hospital declared a separate department of cardiology and appointed Laurie as its director. The department grew rapidly and developed under his leadership. Laurie resigned as head in 1982 to build a large cardiology practice at St Leonards, but continued to work as a consultant at North Shore.

He married Megan in 1961 and they had two daughters and two sons. He had a strong sense of family and zest for life’s pleasures, including good restaurants, food and wine. He also loved horse-racing, owning in partnership several promising horses and racing them to the end. He died of liver cancer.

John Gunning

(Volume X, page 114)

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