Lives of the fellows

Henry Buckhurst Kay

b.23 October 1915 d.9 March 1995
MB BS Melb(1938) MD(1941) MRACP(1944) MRCP(1946) FRACP(1953) FRCP(1964)

Henry Buckhurst Kay, or ‘Ted’, was one of Victoria’s most influential physicians. A busy and perceptive cardiologist, his influence was felt in many fields, particularly in Australian post-graduate education.

He was born in Melbourne and educated at Scotch College, where his father had been science master. He began his medical studies at the University of Melbourne in 1933, and graduated with honours and top of his year in 1938. During his university years he had time to play his favourite sport, hockey, for Victoria and for Australian Universities.

He did his junior resident year at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1939 and continued at that hospital until he enlisted in the Army the following year. His acceptance was delayed, and he took time to gain his first post-graduate degree, his MD, in early 1941. Following this, he joined the 2/1 Australian General Hospital as physician, with the rank of major. By that time the unit was established in Palestine. In 1942 the hospital returned to Australia for a period on the mainland, but as the war progressed it was transferred to Port Moresby in New Guinea. His work there was mainly concerned infections, dysentery, hepatitis, scrub typhus and malaria.

When in mid-1944 the hospital moved back to Australia, he took advantage of leave to pass his examination for the membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Almost immediately the unit was sent to Bourgainville, and he used his initiative to organize air transport for urgently-needed nurses, somewhat against authority. Then came a defining moment, which he describes in his own words: "At the beginning of 1946, while I was still in Bourgainville, a young US serviceman aged 26 was admitted with an acute myocardial infarction [confirmed by electrocardiogram]. We were unable to lift his blood pressure due to heart damage and he died in six hours. Partly due to this I elected to study heart disease in London, as I had had a lifetime’s worth of exposure to bowel infections, stomach disorders, malaria and scrub typhus."

On return to civilian life, he was one of several ex-servicemen to be appointed as outpatient physicians to the Alfred Hospital, giving welcome fresh impetus to the work of that institution. He was given leave to take up a Nuffield fellowship, and sailed for London in October 1946. He attended the National Heart Hospital, studying under Sir John Parkinson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.443], Evan Bedford [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.28] and Paul Wood [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.456] with whom he observed the new technique of cardiac catheterization. Before leaving London he obtained his membership of the Royal College of Physicians.

Back in Melbourne, he began what was to become a very busy and successful private practice, first in the city, later at Stanhill, near the Alfred. Meanwhile he made the first moves to establish cardiac catheterization, and some of the early studies were commenced in 1948. The following year T E Lowe [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.324] was appointed director of the Baker Medical Research Institute and, with his cardiovascular interests, they began a long and fruitful association. Together with H A Luke, assistant radiologist, they submitted the winning Stawell memorial prize essay on the practical significance of modern cardiological investigations, later published as a Baker Institute monograph. A new anticoagulant, ethylidene dicumarol, was introduced by Paul Fantl, of the Institute, and Ted used this, together with heparin, as early as 1950 in the treatment of myocardial infarction.

The Alfred cardiothoracic unit, led by C J Officer Brown and his assistant K N Morris, was at the forefront of advances in the surgical treatment of heart disease, and Ted Kay participated fully in the clinical aspects of diagnosis and treatment. A number of papers were produced, the most notable being a general survey of 883 cases of congenital heart disease over a ten-year period.

Apart from his work at the Alfred, Ted was innovative in his private practice. From 1952 he developed a preventative programme for a large industrial firm, including reduction of smoking, a low fat diet, and increased exercise, measures that have stood the test of time. It was natural that in 1959 he should have been intimately concerned in the formation of the National Heart Foundation, particularly the Victorian division. He served on the board of directors for a number of years, was elected vice-president in 1973, and carried on in that capacity for ten years until his retirement.

At the Alfred Hospital he had been appointed physician to inpatients in 1964. He served on the board of the hospital form 1971 to 1988, the last three years as vice-president. He also represented the Alfred Hospital on the board of the Baker Institute, from 1975 until 1987.

As a clinical teacher, Ted followed the tradition of Williams Evans [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.146], who visited Melbourne in March 1948 for the centenary of the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He was not a good speaker, but always supplied plenty of notes. His teaching was a mixture of the didactic and the questioning. It disconcerted some, but most of his students and residents found his clinics memorable, spiced as they were with a pinch of apprehension. He was involved early with what was then the Melbourne medical post-graduate committee, acting as honorary secretary in 1965 and 1966, and later as chairman from 1971 to 1978 of what became the Victorian Medical Post-graduate Foundation. In 1978 he became chairman of the federal body, the Australian Post-graduate Federation in Medicine, and it was largely for his work in this field, as well as his contribution to the National Heart Foundation, that he was awarded membership of the Order of Australia in 1979.

In 1951 he married Jean Hailes, a doctor and daughter of an eminent surgeon. After the birth of their three children, Jean concerned herself with women’s health, particularly hormone replacement therapy, and started a clinic for the treatment of the menopause. After her untimely death in 1988, Ted assisted her co-workers, friends and family in setting up the Jean Hailes Foundation, which began its active educational community programme in 1992.

Ted Kay was a physician of wide influence. He hid a certain shyness behind a rather bluff and challenging manner, which stimulated others into action. He worked best, perhaps, behind the scenes, bringing about progress in a number of areas of medicine, particularly cardiology, by his efforts.

James M Gardiner

(Volume XI, page 308)

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