Lives of the fellows

Alexander Kempthorn Miller

b.1 November 1902 d.4 January 1991
MRCS LRCP(1925) MRCP(1927) DCH(1958) FRCP(1964)

Alec Miller was born, with his identical twin, in Preston, Lancashire, where his father Thomas Henry Miller was a dental surgeon. The boys were educated at Old College, Windermere, Marlborough College and St Thomas’ Hospital medical school, London, where they qualified in 1925. There is a tradition in the family that they then spun a coin to decide which of them would be come a physician and which a surgeon. From 1925-27 Alec worked as casualty officer, house physician and senior casualty officer at St Thomas’ and then moved to work for a time at Maida Vale Hospital for Nervous Diseases. His career was interrupted by treatment for tuberculosis and this also determined his future. On recovery he took up a post as resident medical officer at the London Chest Hospital and worked in other tuberculosis institutions.

In 1931 he married Nadezshta (Nadia) Danilevitch whose family had been members of the Diplomatic Corps in the Czarist Court; she had spent about a year in Archangel before reaching the UK where she trained as a nurse at St Thomas’. Subsequently she worked for a time in Papua, New Guinea.

In 1932 Alec Miller was appointed assistant superintendent at the Royal National Hospital, Ventnor, Isle of Wight, and after four years there he moved to the Crossley Sanatorium in Cheshire - returning to Ventnor as superintendent in 1942. He remained there for 16 years.

Surgical treatment at the hospital had begun about the tune of his first appointment; the first two surgeons working there being Arthur Tudor-Edwards and Clement Price Thomas [Munk's Roll, Vol.VI, p.382]. Surgery was in abeyance during the war and resumed in 1947 by N F Adeney of Boscombe and later, m 1951, by E F Chin, director of the Southampton thoracic surgical unit. This was while the new centre at Southampton was being built and for a few weeks Chin’s principal theatre for operations in Wessex was at Ventnor. Subsequently, surgical work was undertaken by H M Bradmore from Portsmouth. Altogether about 600 major surgical procedures were carried out between 1947-1958.

During these years, and indeed during his earlier spells at Ventnor and at Crossley, Miller himself carried out the operations for division of adhesions in artificial pneumothorax and, since he practised this regularly - and almost weekly - for about 20 years, his experience in this procedure was perhaps unsurpassed. Over the next 16 years the treatment of tuberculosis evolved rapidly. The hospital also became more of a chest hospital, admitting patients with non-tuberculous respiratory complaints, as indeed its founder -AH Hassall - had always intended. By 1958 it was clear that with 250 beds the hospital was far larger than would be needed for the Island, which it was now principally serving, and its days were numbered.

Alec Miller was directed by the regional board to take training in paediatrics at Great Ormond Street and elsewhere. After a few months he returned with the diploma of child health and served the Island as a general physician with special concern for children, carrying on as a general physician after the appointment of a full-time paediatrician a few years later.

While at Crossley he had done some research, with a colleague, on erythrocyte sedimentation rate and he contributed a paper on the treatment of intrapleural haemorrhage to The Lancet in 1947. He served for a while on the council of the British Tuberculosis Association and was for some years an examiner for its diploma.

After retirement in 1970 he continued to work, serving in the psychiatric service for a time and undertaking a long locum tenens appointment in geriatrics at Portsmouth. With his early experience in neurology, it could be said that he had an unusually wide experience in medical specialties.

He and his brother were notable rugger players - inside three-quarters for the St Thomas’ team which won the Hospitals Cup -and Alec later played for the Harlequins. His wife Nadia survived him as did their two children, William and Tatiana. Tatiana is head mistress of Ashford Girls’ School and was recently president of the Girls’ Schools Association.

E Laidlaw

[Brit.med.J., 1992,304,1112]

(Volume IX, page 364)

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