Lives of the fellows

D'Almero Kok

b.22 June 1920 d.29 April 2005
BSc Wits(1938) MB BS Lond(1942) MRCP(1949) MD(1950) Hon MA Cantab(1955) FRCP(1977)

D'Almero ('Darrell') Kok was an innovative and distinguished research haematologist and honorary consultant at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. He was born into rather humble circumstances near Johannesburg, South Africa. His father was a miner and his mother played the violin to accompany silent films at the local cinema. She later became the sole breadwinner when mining jobs slumped later in the 1920s. Darrell, under her influence, learnt to play the piano. He practised diligently and achieved grade eight by the age of 11. When he was 12 he decided that he wanted to be a doctor and by special dispensation was allowed to start pre-clinical studies at Witwatersrand University aged just 15.

In 1938 he went to England with his mother and his three younger brothers so that two of them could start training at the Royal Academy of Music, whilst Darrell became a clinical medical student at Bart's Hospital in London. During the war years he took a paternal role within the family, supporting it by playing trios with two of his brothers, which were broadcast live on the radio from Bush House. Darrell qualified in December 1942 - still only 22 - and worked as a junior doctor in and around central London, returning to Bart's in 1944 as a junior demonstrator of pathology.

Although he was a South African citizen, he did National Service in the Royal Army Medical Corps from 1946 to 1948, helping to establish a pathology laboratory in the ruined city of Hamburg to support the hospital service there. Later, still in his twenties, he performed autopsies to provide evidence for some of the Nuremberg trials.

He was demobilised in October 1948, and returned to London, as a medical registrar at St Stephen's in 1949, the year he obtained his membership of the College. He was a medical tutor at Bart's in 1950 and a senior medical registrar from 1951 to 1955, although he spent a year in 1953 as a British Empire Cancer Campaign exchange fellow in America. He returned to work with Sir Lionel Whitby [Munk's Roll, Vol.V, p.444] and Sir Ronald Bodley Scott [Munk's Roll, Vol. VII, p.251] - the Queen's physician and editor of a definitive medical textbook of the time. Under these influences, Darrell extended his interest in haematological disorders, particularly lymphomas, and in 1955 he was appointed as a lecturer in medicine at the University of Cambridge, and an honorary consultant physician at Addenbrooke's Hospital.

The opening of the clinical medical school in Cambridge was delayed for many years, diverting Darrell from teaching, but enabling him to continue researching into haematological disorders. He was able also to care for lymphoma patients from all over East Anglia before oncology was established as a specialty, and before the advent of hospices.

His research concentrated on platelets and their influence on blood flow. At one stage he ingeniously adapted a machine from the oil industry to measure blood flow and viscosity. He encouraged the use of aspirin in reducing platelet aggregation, and, in one of a number of papers, advocated, in 1962, the lowering of cholesterol in vascular disease - specifically diabetic retinopathy.

In 1970 Darrell was elected a fellow of the newly established postgraduate University College, which subsequently became Wolfson College in Cambridge. Having been appointed originally to a post in the clinical medical school, which did not function as such for most of his career in Cambridge, he was able to recognise, from personal experience, that postgraduate students, and academics engaged in research were rather 'out in the cold' if they were not affiliated to a particular college within the university. He was therefore a keen supporter of Wolfson College, and a proud participant in its progress to its present position of supporting more than 800 postgraduate students within the university.

From 1973 until the early 1990s Darrel undertook additional work as a member of the regional Medical Appeals Tribunal, developing an interest in disability and rehabilitation medicine, which was to prove useful later in life.

In 1977 he was proud to be elected a Fellow of the College. He continued to work as a physician at Addenbrooke's until the age of 67, retiring in 1987, some 45 years after qualifying.

In his last years Darrell became the devoted nurse of his disabled wife, Pamela Gibbons, who survives him. Her care was an extremely challenging task, which he approached with the diligence that he had applied to all of his lifetime's activities - right back even to his musical studies in childhood. From his teens he had taken a paternal role in supporting his brothers, and later other members of his extended family. He was not a great one for delegating things and, whenever possible, tried to do things himself - increasingly against overwhelming difficulties. Ultimately he paid for this with his life, as he died from heart failure, having become increasingly exhausted by his role as a 24-hour carer. He was in all senses a true and honourable physician.

Nigel Gibbons

[Brit.med.J.,331, 2005, 296]

(Volume XII, page web)

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