Lives of the fellows

Jack Sakula

b.26 February 1908 d.31 January 1982
MRCS LRCP(1930) MB BS Lond(1932) MD(1936) MRCP(1936) DCH(1937) FRCP(1968)

Jack Sakula was consultant paediatrician at the Central Middlesex Hospital. He was born in London and won an entrance scholarship to the Middlesex Hospital Medical School in 1926, qualifying with the conjoint diploma in 1930, followed by the MB BS in 1932. After several junior appointments at the Middlesex, including house physician to Evan Bedford and Harold Boldero, he held a junior residency at Acton Hospital.

In 1933, Jack was appointed as a medical officer at the Park Royal Hospital, which was later to become the ‘Central Middlesex’. When he joined the Park Royal, the old infirmary was being updated, and he was fortunate to join a team of remarkable men, of the calibre of Illtyd James and Norman Matheson; and later, when Horace Joules and Avery Jones arrived, the scene was set for the creation of a superb modern hospital, which was to become internationally famous.

His duties at first were general, but he soon decided to specialize and he took charge of medical cases in the children’s ward. It was here that he was to perform his great work for sick children for the next forty years, building up a paediatric department of international stature. In the early, pre-antibiotic days, he battled with innumerable cases of gastroenteritis and bronchopneumonia. Jack was also responsible for a further 200 children in the children’s homes and another 50 in the babies’ block. All this he initially coped with virtually alone, without the assistance of one house physician. He was also clinical assistant at the Children’s Hospital, Vincent Square.

In 1940, Jack was promoted to consultant paediatrician at the Central Middlesex, and also at Neasden Hospital, Acton Hospital, Willesden General Hospital and Haperbury Hospital for the mentally retarded. He developed a close liaison with the local authority children’s clinics, so that he was virtually supervising all the paediatrics in the group. In 1955, he produced a six page illustrated booklet for parents of children admitted to hospital, which proved such a success that it was copied around the world.

In 1937, the new maternity department at the Central Middlesex opened, averaging 2000 births per annum. Jack became the first physician to take charge of all newborn infants, and was recognized by the Central Midwives Board as a lecturer on the care of the newborn. In 1951, he planned, and had built, the special nursery for intensive care of premature babies which was named The Jack Sakula Unit’.

At the end of the second world war, Jack was a major in the RAMC, serving as medical specialist in a Northern Ireland military hospital, but in the earlier days of the war, Middlesex Hospital undergraduates began to receive part of their clinical training at the Central Middlesex. Jack’s teaching rounds and lectures in paediatrics were extremely popular, and he was later recognized by the University of London as a teacher of paediatrics at the Middlesex Hospital. Moreover, his postgraduate teaching attracted large numbers of students from home and abroad. His advice on paediatric problems was widely sought. He served on the council of the section of paediatrics, Royal Society of Medicine, and on the paediatrics committee of the Royal College of Physicians, and became chairman of the board of examiners for the DCH. He was a senior member of the British Paediatrics Association, and for five years was chairman of the North West Metropolitan Regional Paediatrics Society.

Meanwhile, his academic work flourished. Important papers were published on infantile pleural effusions, on meningitis (research in which he engaged with the late Lady Florey) and on coeliac disease — the last mentioned with Margot Shiner in 1957, when they reported the first intestinal biopsy in that condition. The Middlesex County Medical Society had been formed in 1934, and Jack was its first secretary as well as secretary of its research committee for many years.

Jack was a natural bon viveur, fond of good food and wine, a connoisseur of the arts, keen on travel, and he enjoyed his golf and growing choice vegetables on his allotment, but probably his chief pastime was his painting. He had a very special talent in oils and he often exhibited at the Society of Medical Artists. He was also a keen Freemason and was past master of St Martin’s Lodge and Grosvenor Mark Lodge. Following his retirement in 1973, these pleasures were unfortunately cut short when he developed his final prolonged illness, which he bore with courage. He was survived by his wife, Denise, whom he married in 1941.

A Sakula

[, 1982, 284, 673; Lancet, 1982, 1, 406]

(Volume VII, page 517)

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