Lives of the fellows

Afolabi Michael Sawyerr

b.7 September 1957 d.1 July 2010
BSc Wales(1979) MB BCh(1982) MRCP(1985) MD(1994) FRCP(1999)

Afolabi Michael Sawyerr was a gastroenterology consultant at Whipps Cross University Hospital, Leytonstone, London. The son of Michael Sawyerr, a post office worker from Nigeria, and Dorothy Mary Sawyerr née Daw, a school secretary from Cornwall, he was born in London and grew up with his younger sister Sarah in Fulham. Af attended Munster Road Primary School and then St Clement Danes Grammar School, and it was here that his immense promise was recognised. He excelled both academically and at sport, becoming school captain as well as receiving many awards, both on the track and on the basketball court.

In 1976 Af successfully obtained a place to study medicine at Cardiff. Again he excelled and, en route to qualification, obtained a first class honours degree in biochemistry. He qualified in 1982 and worked as a houseman in both Cardiff and Swansea. After senior house officer jobs that took him from Bolton and Newport, he moved back to London to pursue an MD with Neil McIntyre and Roy Pounder.

Af’s period at the Royal Free was an extremely productive one. Recognised by his supervisors as being exceptionally bright, conscientious and popular, Af’s record of published papers in that period was incredibly impressive. His areas of interest included the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and the effects of H2 blockers on gastric pH and gastrin. In particular, he co-authored the work that described IBD as a thromboembolic risk – work that now underpins the national quality framework (Blood Coagul Fibrinolysis. 1992 Dec;3[6]:773–8). He was awarded an MD in 1994.

In 1992, Af moved to Edinburgh to work as a senior lecturer at the Western General Hospital with Kel Palmer and Martin Eastwood. Here his research took a different slant, pursuing the interaction between gut flora and IBD. Again, he was very successful and more publications followed.

His final career move took him back to London in 1995, when he secured a consultant post at Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone. It is not possible to overestimate the respect and admiration that Af engendered. He believed passionately in the hospital and the endoscopy unit and worked hard, but always part of a team, to turn the unit around from a small two-room offshoot to a state of the art three-room dedicated unit. His work was recognised officially – his department was named ‘gastroenterology team of the year’ by Hospital Doctor magazine in 2006 and achieved the status of a bowel cancer screening centre the same year (this particular accolade is only awarded to high-performing units that can demonstrate they are operating to the highest possible standards and demonstrates the volume of work put in by Af and his colleagues). His research interest continued, establishing a C-reactive peptide threshold as a risk factor for colectomy in ulcerative colitis, but he will be most remembered at the hospital for his brilliance as a clinician and a colleague.

At all times Af was the epitome of the caring, conscientious doctor who was liked and respected by his patients and colleagues. He operated at the absolute cutting edge of his chosen profession and, despite his huge dedication to his work, was also primarily a family man who realised the importance of spending time at home with his wife Heather and their three children Daniel, Hannah and Lucy. Heather and Af met whilst at Cardiff and married in 1984. Despite the huge pressures of work, Af ensured that home was always a happy, secure place, full of love and fun. He was a fabulous cook and host, incredibly patient, caring and just.

The diagnosis of renal cancer, which first necessitated surgery and then chemotherapy when it was realised that the surgery had been unsuccessful, was a huge shock, but was borne with the fortitude, humour and dignity that the colleagues and family of Af had grown to expect. A wonderful human being, a superlative doctor, and a much loved family man – Af was an inspiration to us all.

Ed Seward

(Volume XII, page web)

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