Lives of the fellows

Pamela Anne Davies

b.2 May 1924 d.5 May 2009
MB ChB Glasg(1947) DCH(1953) MRCP(1955) MD(1967) FRCP(1971) Hon FRCPCH(1996)

Pamela Davies was a reader in paediatrics at the Institute of Child Health, London, and an honorary consultant paediatrician at Hammersmith Hospital. She was born in Southsea, Hampshire, the daughter of William John Abbott Davies, a naval constructor, and Margaret Bleeker née Waymouth, the daughter of an army officer.

She studied medicine at the University of Glasgow and then moved to Oxford under the formidable Victoria Smallpeice [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.479]. It was they who taught us that babies of low birth weight – the major contributor to perinatal mortality – should be fed and not starved as was once the custom before the invention of the flexible indwelling feeding tube, and she who pointed out, with its discoverer, R E Pattle, and the neonatal pathologist, Albert Claireaux, the relevance of pulmonary surfactant to the pathology of the so-called respiratory disease syndrome.

However, the then regius professor of physic did not consider her output of research sufficient for a lecturer, and she therefore moved to London as a member of Sir Peter Tizard’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.518] neonatal research unit at the Hammersmith Hospital. Here her major contribution was to the understanding of infection in newborn infants, then a constant menace. She was also responsible for the follow up of surviving babies.

When Tizard himself moved to Oxford, she found the Hammersmith less congenial and retired to become the medical director of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths. It was during her tenure of this important and exacting post that the discoveries were made that more than halved the incidence of so-called sudden infant death syndrome by the simple expedient of nursing babies in the supine rather than prone position.

When she finally retired from medical practice, Davies lived contentedly for some years, sharing her time between London and Paris, before succumbing to the long illness that led to her death.

She never married – her fiancé having been killed in the war and no other man meeting her exacting standards. She thereafter devoted herself to the welfare of other people’s offspring. Tallish, upright, well-dressed and with a natural dignity, Davies was a woman of strong principles and sense of duty, but she was also a good friend, colleague and mentor, though critical of what she considered to be substandard practice. Her example of how medicine should be practised is her legacy.

John A Davis

[Brit.med.J., 2009 339 4345; The Independent 30 June 2009; The Times 15 July 2009]

(Volume XII, page web)

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