Lives of the fellows

George Edgar Sowton

b.1 August 1930 d.30 July 1994
BA Cantab(1954) MA(1957) MB Bchir(1957) MD(1964) MRCP(1959) FRCP(1971) FACC(1971)

Edgar Sowton was born in London and educated at Dulwich College, where he was an outstanding pupil and became head boy. He won a scholarship to study physics at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, but, arriving late due to illness, decided to study medicine simultaneously. He went on to study at Kings College Hospital, London, and qualified in 1957. As a registrar at Kings he was inspired by Sam Oram [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX,p.398] and with him wrote a classic paper on angina. He moved on to St George’s where Aubrey Leatham and Harold Siddons were doing pioneering work on cardiac pacing. Edgar’s physics training made him ideally suited to this field. It was here he wrote his MD thesis, on artificial cardiac pacing, looking at the physiological effects of pacing, for which he received the Raymond Horton-Smith prize for the best Cambridge thesis of the year. Pacing became a lifelong interest and he made many more important contributions on the subject, including studies done during his six month stay at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. He acquired an international reputation as a world expert on the subject.

He went to the Institute of Cardiology in 1964 as first assistant and then became assistant director and reader in cardiology. There he started his studies on the pathophysiology of ischaemic heart disease. He made use of his pacing experience to devise a laboratory model for the study of myocardial ischaemia by pacing the right atrium. This technique was taken up by many others and became a standard method for studying patients with ischaemic heart disease. He was amongst the first to study the haemodynamics of acute myocardial infarction and the effect of new medications and published early information on the value of beta blocking drugs, which are still used routinely.

He moved to Guy’s in 1970, where he became director of cardiac services. He and his colleagues created a major cardiac centre with very broad interests. Edgar was one of the instigators of the European coronary surgery study, the results of which helped define surgery’s role in the management of patients with coronary disease. He was also one of the first to be involved in the evaluation of percutaneous techniques for the treatment of coronary stenosis. He masterminded a major British multicentre trial, random intervention trial in angina (RITA), comparing angioplasty with surgery, which has played an important part in establishing the place of percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA).

It falls to few to achieve international acclaim in a single aspect of their specialty. Edgar Sowton managed it three times. His contribution to the medical literature was prodigious. He wrote almost 300 scientific papers in peer reviewed journals and a number of books and chapters in multi-author publications. Despite his fame he was unassuming in his dealings with colleagues and patients alike. He was elected president of the British Cardiac Society, but he will perhaps be best remembered for his exceptional ability to make scientific presentations. His delivery was clear, slow and deliberate. He had a rule that there should be one fact per slide, which he passed on to many of those he taught.

He was a happy family man. He married Pat in 1957, whom he met when they both worked at King’s, and they had four children. He was an enthusiastic sailor and devoted the same level of application to navigation courses as he did to all his endeavours. He had a very well developed and dry sense of humour and many remember his apposite one-liners.

R Balcon

[Brit.med.J., 1994,309,1434-5; Times, 4 Aug 1994; The Guardian, 4 Aug 1994; The Independent, 12 Aug 1994; The Daily Telegraph, 13 Aug 1994]

(Volume X, page 462)

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