Lives of the fellows

Marion Elizabeth Stevens

b.8 August 1948 d.16 April 1995
BChir Cantab(1974) MB(1975) MRCP(1978) FRCP(1995)

As a renal specialist and kidney patient Marion Stevens had a unique insight into the impact of renal failure on the lives of her patients. She worked as a researcher and pioneered the treatment of the terminally ill in Teesside while at the same time coped with the effects of her own kidney failure.

She was born in Streatham where her father worked as a schools inspector, although he had qualified as a civil engineer. Her mother worked as a bank clerk, but later started training to be a nurse, and was registered in the same year that Marion qualified as a doctor. When Marion was eight the family moved to Bolton and she attended Bolton School. In 1960 she won an open scholarship to Queen Anne’s School, Caversham, where she was recognized as a gifted musician and natural scholar, with a keen interest in the sciences. She won an exhibition to Girton College, Cambridge and obtained a degree in archaeology and anthropology. During her time at Cambridge she decided to study medicine and moved to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. Here she entered into the ‘swinging sixties’ lifestyle, wearing hotpants, driving fast cars and working as a waitress at a restaurant in the King’s Road. This venture was so successful that she was promoted to manage another restaurant, ‘Q5’ in Kensington, where she earned enough money to finance trips to Paris and drive a Jaguar around France. She married a fellow student at Bart’s, but they separated after two years and later divorced.

After qualifying she worked as house physician for Gordon Hamilton-Fairley [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.215] whom she found a charismatic teacher and skilled physician. He stimulated her interest in the care of the dying and the management of patients with long-term illnesses. While working at house jobs she also met Geoff Summerfield, a fellow doctor. When Geoff went to Nepal to run an aid post, Marion travelled to join him. They spent a blissful winter, working and trekking in the Himalayas, and visiting India and Sri Lanka. On their return they embraced Christianity, were married and moved to Liverpool where Geoff carried out research into renal anaemia and Marion began a career in renal medicine. After a year as a medical registrar she was appointed as a research registrar in renal medicine to Mike Bone. Ironically it was while working at this post that she herself developed acute and irreversible renal failure as a result of severe pre-eclamptic toxaemia. Her son Julian was safely delivered by caesarian section at 36 weeks but Marion developed acute cortical necrosis and required haemodialysis. A renal transplant from her brother failed after thirteen months and Marion faced the challenge of permanent dialysis, motherhood and a career in renal medicine. With Geoff’s support she coped initially with haemodialysis, but subsequently opted for peritoneal dialysis (CAPD), then in its infancy. Her determination, Christian faith and immense courage enabled her to continue her renal training, including a research post into glomerulonephritis and varicella zoster.

In 1983, when Geoff was appointed as consultant haematologist in Middlesborough, Marion obtained a personal part time senior registrar post in the department of renal medicine at South Cleveland Hospital. Her enthusiasm and drive amazed all who worked with her and she was determined not to let her health reduce her commitment to the hospital and the patients. She became a great advocate for kidney patients, raising their profile locally and nationally. She was not afraid to challenge MPs and was soon invited to be medical adviser to the National Federation of Kidney Patients Associations. Locally she set up a holiday fund for kidney patients and organized holidays in Spain and Cyprus.

Her research work continued with a study into the effects of protein and phosphate restriction on the progression of renal failure, published in the Quarterly Journal of Medicine (in conjunction with colleagues in Liverpool), and an evaluation of the cost-effectiveness of erythropoietin therapy, published in the British Medical Journal [1992,304,474-477]. She was an initiator and committee member of the Senior Registrar in Nephrology Club from 1988 to 1992 and in 1992 she organized a national symposium on erythropoietin therapy. During this time she continued to live a full life, learning the organ, playing the flute, recorder, piano and harpsichord, singing in the local choral society and taking up skiing. She was involved in Christian youth work and counselling and was an active member of the local community. She also enjoyed travelling and was well-known in renal units throughout the country where she would ‘pop in' for a quick CAPD exchange! Few people have survived on peritoneal dialysis for over ten years as Marion did.

In 1992 she was appointed to a new post as consultant physician in palliative care and medical director of the Teesside Hospice and threw her energies into organizing an integrated, consultant led, palliative care service for Teesside. She was determined to knit together the various organizations - voluntary services, local authority, health service and others - to provide a truly holistic centre for the terminally ill. Although her own health was by now failing as a result of chronic peritoneal infection, her enthusiasm never wavered. She was determined to enjoy a final skiing holiday in France with her family, even though it meant driving herself, ill and uraemic, for two hours down twisting mountain roads to the nearest haemodialysis unit, and then driving back again to join her family.

Working with Marion was never dull; she had unfailing optimism and an ability to instil confidence in others. Her direct manner could be disconcerting to the uninitiated, but it stimulated discussion and brought results. It was her strong faith, her energy and her enthusiasm for new and challenging projects which carried her through a number of crises. She was honoured and delighted to be elected FRCP shortly before her death and the success of Teesside Hospice is a fitting memorial to her vision and determination.

J R Cove-Smith

[Brit.med.J., 1995,311,1018]

(Volume X, page 467)

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