Lives of the fellows

Edwin Melville Mack Besterman

b.4 May 1924 d.3 Sept 2007
BA Cantab(1943) MB BChir(1947) MA(1948) MRCP(1949) MD(1955) FRCP(1967) FACC(1985)

Edwin Besterman was a cardiologist in London, creating the Waller department of cardiology at St Mary’s Hospital and undertaking pioneer research on lipoproteins at the Institute of Cardiology. He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, and his father was Edwin Kahn, but after his mother Evelyn Mack re-married he took the surname of his step-father, the distinguished bibliographer Theodore Besterman. Educated at Stowe School, he entered Cambridge University for his medical studies, proceeding to Guy’s Hospital for his clinical work.

In 1948 he became house physician at Hammersmith Hospital to the renowned cardiologist Paul Wood [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.456], which led him on to his later career and to his next appointments at the newly formed special unit for juvenile rheumatism at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital in Taplow, Berkshire, where Wood was also on the staff. The inspiration for this unit had come from Sir John Parkinson [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VIII, p.448] and was directed by E G L Bywaters [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.86]. Besterman’s talent for academic medicine was realised with his study, using a newly designed phonocardiogram, into the auscultatory findings in acute rheumatic fever. This research gained him the Raymond Horton Smith prize at Cambridge University for his MD thesis in 1955.

Besterman left Taplow in 1953 to become the first assistant in the Institute of Cardiology, London, attached to the National Heart Hospital, where Wood was the director. At that time cardiologists had little interest in the relation between blood lipids and coronary heart disease, preferring studies on haemodynamics. But Besterman initiated a detailed study of the pre-beta band on lipid electrophoresis and was probably the first person to identify the role of triglycerides in the genesis of coronary heart disease, outlined in a paper in the British Heart Journal in 1957.

From 1956 to 1962 he was senior registrar at the Middlesex Hospital to D Evan Bedford [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VII, p.28] and Walter Somerville [Munk’s Roll, Vol. XII, web]. This was an important era in cardiology with rapid progress in cardiac surgery and the Middlesex had the outstanding surgeon Sir Thomas Holmes Sellors [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.446]. Besterman played an important role in Sellor’s pioneer work in using surface hypothermia to close atrial septal defects with open heart surgery.

He was disappointed not to get a consultant post at his old university, which went to Hugh Fleming [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], but in 1962 he was appointed consultant cardiologist at St Mary’s Hospital London. This was where Augustus Desiré Waller had recorded the first human electrocardiogram in 1887 and fortunately his original apparatus was still there. Besterman made sure it was carefully preserved and he named his department after Waller. He was an excellent teacher and was very supportive of his junior staff. Besterman had the accolade of having colleagues and their families turning to him for his excellent clinical opinion. For 18 years he was a visiting consultant to the island of Malta, from where patients came to St Mary’s for cardiac surgery. In addition he had a busy private practice in London. He was a member of the British Cardiac Society and also of the London Cardiological Club, whose members were restricted to part-time consultants only.

He took early retirement from St Mary’s and moved to Jamaica at the age of 60, which was the home country of his third wife. But he did not retire from medical practice. He joined the staff of the university hospital in Kingston, with the honorary title of professor of cardiology, and each week he taught undergraduate and postgraduate students and had an out-patient clinic. He was active in the Heart Foundation of Jamaica. He reported on an almost unbelievable 100,000 electrocardiograms taken over 15 years. He helped to form the Caribbean Cardiac Society and was elected a fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

He was married three times. From 1944 to 1955 he was married to Audrey Heald, from 1955 to 1978, to Eleanor Till, both marriages ending in divorce, and, finally to Perri Burrowes, who survives him. She was a sister tutor at St Mary’s. He had two sons (Harvey [Munk’s Roll, Vol.X, p.31], who died in 1997, and Tristram) by his first wife, and two sons (Adam and Gregory) by his second wife.

Besterman was a keen medical historian, being a member of the Osler Club of London, and he had a fine library of old books on heart disease. His wife writes: “Perhaps his greatest contribution to the University of the West Indies was to arouse their interest in the history of medicine and to increase their love of medicine.” He wrote articles about medical history in the West Indies. He was a keen gardener and an expert photographer, being a qualified photographic judge, both of which hobbies he continued in Jamaica, with a special interest in raising orchids. He and Perri bred German shepherd dogs and his expertise was such that he became president of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Jamaica.

Arthur Hollman

[References:Brit.med.J.,2007,335,942]

(Volume XII, page web)

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