Lives of the fellows

Cecil Arthur Holman

b.27 June 1915 d.3 May 1998
MB BS Lond(1940) FRCP(1969) FRCPath

Cecil Arthur Holman was a haematologist in the Lewisham area of south London, and a specialist in the treatment of haemolytic disease of the new-born. He trained at King’s College and St George’s Hospital, qualifying in 1940. At this time, during the war, degree certificates were not being issued and it was not until 1992 at the Royal Festival Hall that he, together with many others, finally received their degrees. Being unfit for military service, Cecil worked in London throughout the war years.

In 1944 he was appointed to Lewisham Hospital as assistant pathologist, joining E N Allott. Holman soon set about developing Lewisham as a centre for the treatment of haemolytic disease of the new-born, establishing a clinic for pregnant women with anti-bodies and for the babies after a successful outcome. Allott had developed a blood donor panel during the war and this formed the basis of the Lewisham blood donor unit, which provided fresh blood for straight transfusions for babies with erythroblastosis fetalis and subsequently exchange and intra-uterous transfusion. This Lewisham donor panel also provided blood for the hospital and subsequently, as a result of Holman’s efforts in the late 1970s and 1980s, expanded to some 50,000 units of blood donated every year.

Pathology in those early years was very different from now. One large room served all the departments at Lewisham. In the late 1940s, once the NHS started, two further pathologists were appointed, each with his own piece of benching. It was common place for pathologists, including Holman, to visit the wards for blood collection, returning to their labs to complete the needed investigation. Cecil’s particular forte being blood transfusion meant he developed technical expertise in serology. He collaborated with Race in identifying the Wright blood system and Cw, a sub group of the Rh system (which was detected first when investigating an unexplained case of haemolytic disease of the new-born).

Ten years later things had improved dramatically, each section of the laboratory had its own rooms and staff, and mechanization was beginning. The composition of the technical staff was changing and women were beginning to out number men. Besides his blood transfusion interests, Cecil was closely involved in the introduction of chemotherapy for leukaemia and was one of the pioneers in the use of freeze-dried factor VIII preparation for haemophiliacs, produced in the laboratory from the fresh frozen plasma of local donors.

Cecil and the Lewisham laboratory became a nationally known reference centre for patients and specimens and a centre of excellence for intra-uterine transfusion. Patients came from all parts of the country for counselling and treatment, some even from abroad. All were received and managed by Cecil with his unfailing courtesy and kindness. As his reputation grew he became more and more involved with committee work both locally and nationally. He was also an examiner for the Royal College of Pathologists.

I well remember Cecil hoisting vast files of paper work into his car to continue working at home to met some pressing deadline. Cecil’s cars were always a talking point and often a source of amusement. I suspect he knew a good deal about them but he never did any maintenance, believing that if oil, water and petrol were sufficient they should go. In his last decade at Lewisham he worked on plans and schemes for a new hospital and transfusion centre. While the new hospital never materialised, Cecil did see a mini-centre for blood transfusion built at the adjacent Hither Green Hospital, and he was particularly proud of the specially adapted mobile unit which travelled to the small villages in Kent for blood collection.

Eventually retirement came and a specially arranged scientific meeting was held at St Thomas’s Hospital, where Cecil was the guest of honour. With retirement Cecil and Betty moved to Cowden in Kent where Cecil became active in the local Edenbridge War Memorial Hospital League of Friends, eventually becoming chairman. In his last days he was admitted there to be looked after with great dedication by the staff until his death from heart failure.

David Whitmore

(Volume XI, page 270)

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