Lives of the fellows

Imrich Sarkany

b.7 January 1923 d.22 November 2005
MRCS LRCP(1952) MRCP(1956) FRCP(1968)

Imrich Sarkany, generally known as ‘Emery’, was a consultant dermatologist at the Royal Free Hospital from 1960 until 1987, and was one of the leading dermatologists of his generation. He was born into a Jewish family in the newly-formed state of Czechoslovakia. Emery’s interest in medical science may have been inspired by his father, Edmund, the village vet, who bought a herd of cattle and carried out a study of brucellosis in them to earn his MD. Not long after his father’s death, the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, and his mother, Maria née Pollitzer, arranged for him to flee to safety in England on the eve of the invasion. He arrived as a 16-year-old refugee, and later served in the British Army in France.

Returning home after the war, he found that his whole family had died in Auschwitz, and within a few years he was a refugee in England once again, this time from the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia. With the help of a philanthropist, Sir Oliver Scott, he was accepted to study medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital.

Once he became a dermatologist he made his mark with pioneering work: the first treatment of a fungal skin infection with an oral agent (griseofulvin), identification of the evasive causative organism of the eruption known as erythrasma, the creation of a new microtopographic technique for imaging the skin surface, and the publication of the classic textbook Fungus diseases and their treatment (London, J & A Churchill, 1964).

In 1960, 12 years after arriving as a refugee, he was appointed consultant dermatologist at the Royal Free Hospital. Although he remained involved in laboratory research, running his own laboratory at the Royal Free for nearly 30 years, he made his indelible impression as a diagnostician, mentor and teacher. He described many new syndromes, particularly in the area of the cutaneous complications of liver disease in his long collaboration with Sheila Sherlock [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.514] and her successors. His larger-than-life personality, dry sense of humour, passion for his subject and personal loyalty made him a charismatic and memorable mentor and teacher for generations of dermatology trainees and medical students alike.

In the 1980s he was president of the British Association of Dermatologists and president of the Royal Society of Medicine dermatology section. Towards the end of his career his European roots and political skills resulted in his playing a key role in setting up the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology and serving as one of its first presidents. In the subsequent 15 years the Academy has flourished: 7,000 delegates attended its most recent conference.

He died after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He was devoted to his family, and they to him, and is survived by his wife Helen, two sons (one a dermatologist), one daughter and seven grandchildren.

Robert Sarkany

(Volume XII, page web)

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