Lives of the fellows

James Maryons Stansfeld

b.31 March 1917 d.14 March 1998
MA MB BChir Cantab(1941) MRCS LRCP(1941) MD(1951) MRCP(1971) FRCP(1975)

Jim Stansfeld was a paediatrician in Durham. He was born in Sussex during the latter stages of the First World War, the only child of a general practitioner. Educated at Oundle School, he later went on to St John’s College, Cambridge, qualifying at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1941.

Like most young graduates of his day he was immediately drafted into the Army, joining a light field ambulance in the Guards Armoured Division, but he saw no active service. He was then posted to Bovington Camp, Dorset, where he worked with Charles Stuart-Harris [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.477], investigating the causes of and possible cures for respiratory infections.

During the winter of 1942 to 1943 his own experience of caring for 31 soldiers with influenza B was combined with data from several other military camps and reported in his first medical publication in The Lancet. At that time the search was on for new antibacterial substances and a metabolic product of penicillium patulum had been isolated. This substance, patulin, was sent to William Ewart Gye [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.166], director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories, for evaluation as an anti-cancer agent but, because he had a cold at the time, he tried it on himself. The rapid resolution of his symptoms prompted him to promote patulin as a cure for the common cold and Stansfeld was involved in its evaluation. He and his two lieutenant colonel colleagues, A E Francis and Stuart-Harris, enrolled 100 soldiers into a study in which alternate subjects were given patulin or a placebo. Careful analysis showed that resolution of symptoms was identical in both arms. This landmark study, also reported in The Lancet, has a very important place in medical history; it was the first ever randomized controlled trial, preceding the pioneering streptomycin trials by almost five years.

It was at Bovington that he met Lucy, his ward sister, and within two weeks had proposed marriage. The wedding took place three months later and during the honeymoon he was ordered abroad to Kenya where he became medical officer to an anti-aircraft training unit in a remote area. One of his major achievements was to organize a brothel for the local soldiers to prevent the spread of disease. It was also in Africa that he began his lifelong fascination with the hippopotamus.

After dealing with men in the Army for five years he felt that he should learn about paediatric medicine. In 1946 the Mecca of paediatrics was Newcastle and he quickly fell under the spell of Sir James Spence [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.386], working with many of the doctors who were to become leaders of the rapidly developing specialty. During his time in the department he developed a research interest in urinary tract infections.

In 1950 he was appointed as the first paediatrician in Durham. For twenty years he worked single- handed. He played a major role in the wider life of Dryburn Hospital and became its first clinical tutor when the need for postgraduate education was just beginning to be recognized. On one occasion he sent a ‘test’ to a group of GPs who had attended a post-graduate lecture and to others who hadn’t been there. He showed that those who were at the lecture did know more about the subject in question.

A long and reasonably healthy retirement allowed him to pursue his interests of gardening and cooking. He also took up new ventures, including sculpture and community support for victims and witnesses. He is remembered as a kind and generous man, always elegantly dressed, usually with a bow tie. His first wife died in 1968 and he had two subsequent marriages.

A W Craft

(Volume XI, page 541)

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