Lives of the fellows

George Ilsley Charlton Ingram

b.11 August 1919 d.12 April 2004
MB BChir Cantab(1944) MRCP(1945) MD(1951) FRCPath(1969) FRCP(1972)

Ilsley Ingram, former professor of experimental haematology at St Thomas's Hospital, London, was a true polymath - an international expert on the bleeding disorders, a botanist and entomologist who was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society, a field archaeologist and geologist, a lover of Shakespeare and a polished poet.

In 1949, he sought a post with Sir James Learmonth and it was he who directed Ilsley's interest towards bleeding and clotting. After training in Oxford in the relevant techniques, he took up a post in Learmonth's department of surgery in Edinburgh, where Ilsley was later to be supported by the Medical Research Council. During this time he made the seminal discovery that infusion of adrenaline in man caused a reduction in blood clotting time, which he later proved attributable to an increase in antihaemophilic globulin activity. These discoveries opened a new field in the non-transfusional management of some patients with bleeding disorders, leading to the later discovery of similar effects from desmopressin.

From 1956 he was at St Thomas's, in a virtually one-man department, and was almost permanently on call. When it was discovered that surgery and dental surgery were rendered possible for haemophiliac patients by the infusion of normal fresh plasma, he would spend nights in the hospital and take blood from three donors in the morning and two in the afternoon, in order to have enough plasma. He was a pioneer in training patients to give themselves intravenous injections of antihaemophilic globulin prepared from blood, which later proved in some cases to have been contaminated with AIDS. He was influential in persuading John Major's government to provide these victims with some financial support.

Patients would seek to stay under his care when they moved out of his 'parish'. Generations of students at St Thomas's held him in high esteem for his clarity, and his relaxed and entertaining style.

He played an important part in the development of specialist centres for the management of haemophilia throughout the UK, and was chairman of an international committee deciding on the rationalisation and standardisation of the blood tests in this field. A Dutch colleague refers to his "diplomatic elegance" in this role.

Retirement at the age of 60 brought with it a beard, and the pursuit of investigations into the welfare of wild orchids in a Kentish wood, leading to a publication on this subject with his son - his hundredth and his son's first. He became an expert on beetles. A small book of his poems was published. A confrontation with tuberculosis, which began when he was seven, with severe recurrences as a student and soon after qualification, came again at this time. He developed mononeuritis multiplex, which led to a growing disability, requiring transfer from a beautiful house and garden in Kent, to a flat in what seems to be a residential Oxford University of the Third Age. Undaunted, he used a motorised chair, often to go to the Bodleian Library or to read books to the blind - particularly science students. The cause of his death was a bladder carcinoma.

He was much blessed in his marriage to Patricia Forbes Irving and had very strong bonds with her, their two daughters and a son (who are full of inherited virtues), with his grandchildren, and with many friends. He was a very talented, modest, kind, loving and lovable man, and humour was never far away.

Michael Matthews

[The Daily Telegraph 3 May 2004]

(Volume XI, page 287)

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