Lives of the fellows

Israel Kessel

b.16 June 1917 d.10 November 1985
MB BCh Wits(1939) DCH(1947) MRCPE(1948) MRCP(1948) FRCPE(1970) FRCP(1972)

Israel (Rael) Kessel qualified at the University of Witwatersrand and served as a captain in the South African Medical Corps for the duration of the second world war. He first came to England immediately after the war and completed his postgraduate qualification in paediatrics at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street. On his return to South Africa in 1949 he became assistant physician at Baragwanath Hospital where he participated in much of the pioneer work in kwashiorkor and other related diseases. The majority of patients came from the neighbouring area, now known as Soweto, where most of the inhabitants lived in considerable squalor. All varieties of infections, gastrointestinal disturbances and malnutrition, were rife. There was an abundance of perinatal and neonatal problems and a consequent high infant mortality rate. Rael Kessel was very involved with these patients and his efforts contributed to the subsequent reduction in neonatal morbidity and mortality.

In 1950 he was appointed as the first full-time consultant at the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children with an attachment to the University of Witwatersrand. He was responsible for the clinical teaching of medical students and nurses. At the same time, he took over the care of neonates at the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital.

Rael left South Africa in 1963 and was appointed as consultant paediatrician to the Watford and Hemel Hempstead Group of hospitals in 1964. He resumed his association with the Hospital for Sick Children, where he held the post of honorary associate physician. He continued in both these posts until his retirement in 1984; for most of this period he worked single-handed. He worked closely with the large obstetric department of a busy district general hospital and was particularly interested in neonates. He was largely instrumental in setting up a purpose built neonatal unit, and later in his professional career he was able to persuade the Regional Health Authority to appoint a second paediatrician with a special interest in neonatology.

In spite of his heavy clinical commitment, he found time to write a standard textbook on The Essentials of paediatrics for nurses, Edinburgh, E & S Livingstone, 1957, which ran into five editions. At the time of his death he was in the process of preparing a sixth edition.

He excelled in committee work, serving as chairman of the medical staff committee and as consultant representative of the district management team at a critical stage in the commissioning of the new Watford General Hospital.

Rael was a very modest and kindly person; qualities which were appreciated by his young patients and their parents. His opinions on matters both clinical and administrative were greatly respected by his colleagues. He also enjoyed family life to the full. He was twice married; first to Elizabeth Farrell, by whom he had a son and a daughter, and then - after her untimely and tragic death in 1973 - to Margaret Wood. Margaret shared with him a passion for antiques and they enjoyed exhibiting at antique fairs together. His special interest was in antique scientific instruments, scales, weights and calculators. His retirement in 1984 did not in the least detract from his enthusiasm both for paediatrics and antiques. He shouldered the burden of unexpected local vacancies for paediatricians at various hospitals in the Home Counties and in Cornwall, which held a special place in his heart, and he was still at work a week before his death, which characteristically, and probably in accordance with his wishes, came suddenly during the course of an antiques fair.

Rael Kessel was especially respected by his junior staff, many of whom subsequently settled in general practice in Watford. In particular, many young doctors from overseas will remember him with great affection as someone who gave them tremendous help when starting their careers in paediatrics. Many of them attended the funeral ceremony, some travelling great distances, and there was hardly a dry eye amongst them.

JH Angel

[Brit.med.J.,l986,292,276; Watford Observer, 15 Nov 1985]

(Volume VIII, page 258)

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