Lives of the fellows

Louis Vogelpoel

b.26 March 1922 d.28 April 2005
MB ChB Cape Town(1945) MRCP(1951) MD(1959) FRCP(1974) FCP SA

Louis Vogelpel, one of the pioneers of cardiology in South Africa, also had an exceptional career as a distinguished general physician and horticultural scientist. His lifelong commitment to excellent patient care, teaching and personal education will be remembered by his colleagues and patients in Cape Town where he practised for half a century. Generations of medical students, house officers, registrars and consultants benefited from exposure to the unique blend of his clinical expertise, extensive knowledge, enthusiasm and gracious style.

Louis graduated from the University of Cape Town in 1945 with first class honours and a prize for the best student of that year. After an internship at Groote Schuur Hospital he was appointed as a tutor in the department of medicine in 1947. His active association with and contribution to that department continued for a remarkable 50 years.

He was awarded the C J Adams and Nuffield dominion fellowships, which allowed him to spend two years at the National Heart Hospital in London in the early fifties, where he developed his lifelong interest and expertise in cardiology. He trained under Paul Wood [Munk's Roll, Vol. V, p.456] and what he learned informed and structured his teaching and practice. He returned to Cape Town in 1953 and was appointed as a part-time physician and lecturer in the department of medicine and cardiac clinic at the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital - a position he held in one form or another almost until his death. He was instrumental in the establishment of the cardiac clinic and cardiac surgery in Cape Town. His clinical research activities resulted in the award of a MD with first class honours in 1959 and the publication of many papers, some of which are still quoted. Many of his earlier contributions reflected truly original observations when modern cardiology was in its infancy. Some of these have stood the test of time and have been 'rediscovered' years later with the development of more sophisticated techniques.

Despite a busy and very successful private practice he continued to make a major contribution to the activities of the department of medicine and cardiac clinic by regular attendance at, and contributions to, journals, clubs, ward rounds, clinical teaching and departmental meetings. His dedication and loyalty to the University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital department of medicine and cardiac clinic throughout a long career set a fine example of how high calibre private practice could be combined with ongoing academic commitment.

He was a gifted and enthusiastic teacher and was instrumental in the training of generations of undergraduates by regular bedside tutorials. He went to considerable lengths to seek out patients he believed his students should see and ensured that they understood, learned and enjoyed the finer details of history taking and examination. Postgraduate students, both registrars and junior consultants have benefited from his advice and guidance. Many who have achieved prominence nationally and internationally have acknowledged his contribution to the development of their careers. Perhaps his greatest contribution was in serving as a role model. An outstanding physician and clinical cardiologist with a lifelong commitment to scholarship and continuing education, he remained abreast of developments in a filed which advanced dramatically after his own training, without losing any of his clinical skills. He had the wonderful ability to accept criticism, to admit error on the rare occasion he was wrong and perhaps, most importantly, to carefully analyse the reason for the mistake.

Louis had two characteristics which some found trying. The first was his enthusiasm. Unusual physical signs, new science that explained well-known clinical observations or some link between medicine and his other passion of botany would trigger discussion and argument which continued until he was satisfied the matter was settled. The second was his endless intellectual curiosity and inability to rest until he had an answer to a question he had posed. He would return repeatedly, in the most courteous manner, but with terrier-like insistence, to the original question until he got to the truth or to an answer he trusted.

Louis Vogelpoel had other lives outside medicine. He was well-recognised as a horticultural scholar and researcher. His interest was mainly indigenous South African flora and he was generally regarded as an expert on ericas and South African orchids, particularly the disa genus.

He had a vast knowledge of the natural habitat and spent many hours in the veld. His studies and research on the biorhythms of the disa orchid species allowed the successful cultivation of these beautiful orchids in nurseries. These contributions were recorded in excellent articles and chapters in the orchid literature. Following his first publication on disa uniflora in 1980 more than 45 publications followed on various aspects of orchids. His writings showed clear thought and meticulous attention to detail and he was recognised as an excellent lecturer with an enthusiasm for his subject which captured his audience. He was also an expert photographer of orchids and other flowers and published on that subject.

He is survived by Daphne, his wife of 54 years, and four children, Peter, Lynda-Jane, David and Christopher.

Pat Commerford

(Volume XII, page web)

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