Lives of the fellows

Robert Scott Weetch

b.2 September 1914 d.16 May 1969
MB ChB Glasg(1940) MRCP(1948) FRCP(1969)

Robert Scott Weetch was born in Glasgow. His father was a civil servant and his mother, Isobella MacBeth Scott, came from Dundee. At the age of 7 the accidental ingestion of caustic soda led to an oesophageal stricture and there followed a prolonged period of surgical treatment in Denmark. Over a period of two years he underwent several attempts to create an artificial exteriorised oesophagus from the tissue of the anterior chest wall. This was finally abandoned and he returned to Glasgow with a gastrostomy to resume his interrupted education, retrieving the lost years and securing admission to the Glasgow University after his secondary education at Whitehill School. He must have largely ignored his disability as he participated in games, both at school and university where he kept goal in a football team.

After qualification, he first worked as the RMO at Canniesbum Hospital in Glasgow. Finding his life increasingly intolerable with constant dependence on a troublesome gastrostomy, he sought the advice of Professor Grey Turner, then the Professor of Surgery at the British Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith Hospital, London. What followed must be one of the most remarkable single case histories in the management of oesophageal strictures. After more than 20 years, on Professor Grey Turner’s advice, the stricture, which was 8 cm in length, was dilated by the use of bougies. Over many months, during which we can only imagine the determination which must have been needed to persist with this type of treatment, he ultimately achieved re-establishment of a satisfactory swallowing mechanism followed by closure of the gastrostomy. In this period he always acknowledged how much help and support was given to him by his professional advisers and, in particular, by Mr. Franklin, who was then the Senior Lecturer on Grey Turner’s unit. Thereafter, for the rest of his life, Robert Weetch used oesophageal dilatation at regular intervals to maintain the remarkable restoration of oesophageal function which had been achieved. This history and treatment were the subject of a case report (Brit. J. Surg. 30, 344-353, April, 1943).

Following this period he resumed a life of much improved quality and devoted himself to achieving his aim of becoming a physician. He became successively house surgeon to Grey Turner, whose unit had achieved so much for his own health, Hall Tutorial Fellow in medicine at Glasgow University in the Muirhead Department of Medicine at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, house physician to John McMichael at the British Postgraduate Medical School, house physician to A. Hope-Gosse and to J.L. Livingstone at the Brompton Hospital, and clinical assistant to J. Purdon Martin at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square, London. In August 1946 he became senior registrar to A.W.D. Leishman in Sheffield Royal Infirmary, remaining there until September, 1952 when he became lecturer in therapeutics with Sir Edward Wayne in the Department of Therapeutics in Sheffield Royal Infirmary. A further period in endocrinology with Graham Wilson followed, until he was appointed consultant physician to Rotherham and Barnsley Hospitals in 1956. After a brief period, the post was divided, and Robert Weetch spent the last ten years of his professional life working exclusively in Rotherham as a general physician.

To his work he brought an intensity of feeling and a sympathy for the sick which left a vivid impression on all who benefited either from his advice as a patient or who knew him as a colleague. An absolutely superb supporter of the distressed, there can be little doubt that his own early experiences and his prolonged disability, so successfully overcome, allowed him to discuss problems with patients in a particularly sympathetic and helpful way.

Ill health pursued him again over the last five years as he had a series of myocardial infarctions and had to undergo major surgery for a vesico-colonic fistula due to diverticulitis. During this period he again displayed the most remarkable courage and capacity to continue his professional work in the face of severe pain from intractable angina.

He married Iola Weetch in 1945 and they had two children, Elizabeth and Andrew.

DS Munro

[Brit.med.J., 1969, 2, 580; Lancet, 1969, 1, 1164; The Star, Sheffield, 17 May 1969]

(Volume VI, page 453)

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