Lives of the fellows

William Alan Hudson

b.27 June 1921 d.28 November 2009
MB ChB Sheffield(1951) MRCP(1955) FRCP(1972)

William Alan Hudson, known as ‘Alan’ to his friends, was a distinguished consultant cardiologist and general physician at the Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton. His loss of two brothers at an early age, coupled with his wartime experiences, gave him a great appreciation of the value of life and its fragility. He was a shrewd clinician and diagnostician before the era of cross-sectional imaging. He retained the warm affection of his patients, colleagues and junior doctors, who always enthused about his teaching and sense of humour.

Alan was born in Sheffield, the second son of Thomas Henry Lawrence Hudson, a steelworker, who was himself a veteran of the Dardanelles and Flanders campaigns in the First World War. His mother, Gladys May née Pearson, was the daughter of a silver worker. At Norton village school, Alan was awarded the Sir Francis Chantrey scholarship at the age of 12, and won a free scholarship to King Edwards VII School, Sheffield. In 1939, he was awarded the Robert Styring undergraduate scholarship to Sheffield University Medical School. However, his studies were interrupted by the Second World War.

In 1940, following the evacuation at Dunkirk, he volunteered for military service and was enlisted in the 70th Young Soldiers Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light infantry. He was rapidly chosen for officer selection, and in 1942 was commissioned in the Royal Regiment of Artillery, and spent the rest of the war as a young officer in 136 (1st West Lancs) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. He served in Burma with the 7th Indian Division operating as forward observation officer to a battery of 25 pounder field guns. He survived the Battle of the Admin Box in the Arakan and was engaged in the recapture of central Burma, culminating in the opposed crossing of the Irrawaddy river. He was involved in the last battle of the war in the Sittang bend south of Rangoon during the monsoon of 1945.

Following demobilisation in 1946, he returned to Sheffield Medical School and qualified in 1951. Both his house jobs were on the professorial unit at Sheffield General Infirmary. In 1956, he was appointed resident medical officer at the General Hospital Birmingham, and in 1958 moved to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, first as a research fellow, then as a senior registrar (medicine).

While working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, he was involved in the early electrophysiology studies of the heart in conjunction with developments in experimental cardiopulmonary bypass surgery in the department of surgery. He and colleagues identified the association between complete heart block and low cardiac output. In 1960, in conjunction with L D Abrams and R Lightwood, he described the treatment of complete heart block in three patients with an innovative inductive coupled cardiac pacemaker (Lancet 1960 Jun 25; 1(7139):1372-4). In an era of rudimentary battery technology, and when the only alternative was permanent percutaneous electrodes, the device consisted of a primary external coil supplied by a portable transistor pulse generator and a secondary induction coil deployed in the left pectoral muscle with wires positioned into the ventricular muscle at thoracotomy. Thereafter, he published further papers on both the circulatory effects of electrically induced changes in ventricular rate at rest and during exercise in complete heart block, and advocated the use of pacemakers in preference to medical therapy for those patients presenting with either syncopal episodes secondary to ventricular arrest or bradyarrhythmias causing symptoms of low cardiac output.

Despite his research interests, it was always his professional wish to pursue a career as a physician in a general district hospital, and in 1962 he was appointed as a consultant physician with an interest in cardiology at Wolverhampton Royal Hospital, where he practised happily for the rest of his career.

He retired in 1985 and had the privilege of a long and healthy retirement. He had a passion for travel and thereafter spent several years visiting various parts of the world. He loved Spain, having managed to spend most family holidays there, and he finally fulfilled a lifelong ambition to learn Spanish at a foreign language school in Andalucía surrounded by fellow students several decades younger than himself. His wife, Elizabeth née Major, three children and nine grandchildren survived him. He was deeply affected by the loss of his fifth grandchild at an early age from meningitis. His eldest son is a gastroenterologist and a fellow of the RCP. His second son is a British Army Colonel, while his daughter is an accountant.

N Hudson

(Volume XII, page web)

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