Lives of the fellows

Samuel Oram

b.11 July 1913 d.8 November 1991
MRCS LRCP(1939) MB BS(1939) MRCP(1940) MD(1941) FRCP(1949)

Samuel Oram was an outstanding cardiologist with an international reputation. He was director of the cardiac department of King’s College Hospital, London, from 1959-78, and author of Clinical heart disease, London, Heinemann Medical Books, 1971, which is generally regarded as the last, definitive, single-author textbook in cardiology.

Son of a Royal Navy stoker, Samuel Oram was born in London and educated at Peckham General School, where he edited the school magazine and met Ivy Amato who was later to become his wife. On leaving school ‘Sam’ began his working life as a laboratory technician. During this time he wrote a series of highly original papers on biology, three of which were subsequently published in scientific journals. After winning a London County Council scholarship, he studied medicine at King’s College Hospital medical school; taking three prizes, including the medical school’s senior scholarship. Subsequently, he obtained his membership of the College, gained a gold medal for his doctorate in medicine at London University, joined the RAMC and served with distinction in West Africa, Normandy, Belgium, the Andaman Isles and India. In India he became a medical consultant with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

On return to London, after the end of the war, he became chief assistant at the National Heart Hospital. Then in 1947, at the age of 34, he was appointed consultant physician to King’s College Hospital where he spent the rest of his professional life. He devoted himself to the hospital and the medical school and he was a superb teacher, having the gift of making difficult problems seem simple. He also had a dry sense of humour which he used to great advantage in his bedside teaching.

During his time as director of the cardiac department, together with a carefully selected team, he introduced the technique of synchronized electrical defibrillation of the heart to Britain and developed studies of electrophysiology, biochemistry and histology of the heart. He attracted to his department many able research workers and over 100 papers were published. With his surgical colleagues, William Cleland and Angus Macarthur, he helped to establish open heart surgery at King’s and, in 1960, with Mary Holt, he described the syndrome of a familial disorder characterized by a congenital heart defect and deformities of the upper limbs.

Many generations of students have cause to be grateful to him: 14 of his staff became consultant cardiologists, including three professors, and one professor in the care of the elderly. He was an examiner in medicine to Cambridge and London Universities, to the Society of Apothecaries and to the College, where he was also a censor. He championed the cause of cardiac technicians and was president of their society. He was cardiologist to the Croydon group of hospitals and Epsom and Ewell Hospital for 21 years, consultant medical officer to Sun Life and medical adviser to the Rio Tinto Zinc Corporation and to the then DHSS.

For 10 years he served the British Cardiac Society as secretary, treasurer, and member of council. He was also on the board of The British Heart Journal. In 1978 he retired from his hospital posts but continued his Harley Street practice until 1990. Sam Oram was a very private man, with a very determined character and a warm affection for friends and colleagues. His skill at poker playing, acquired during his student and military days, served him well when questioning students and at medical firm dinners he was much in demand as a raconteur.

He married Ivy Amato in 1940 and they had two daughters. Oram was a devoted family man and a Francophile. Challenged by his family, he obtained an A-level in French at the age of 60 and could deliver a lecture in French with ease. With his wife, he greatly enjoyed the theatre in London and in Chichester, where they retired. Sadly, Ivy died a few months before him but during his terminal illness he was supported lovingly by his children and grandchildren.

V C Luniewska

[Brit.med.J., 1992,304,500; The Times, 20 Nov 1991;The Independent, 11 Nov 1991;The Daily Telegraph, 26 Nov 1991]

(Volume IX, page 398)

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