Lives of the fellows

William Francis Monteith Fulton

b.12 December 1919 d.21 December 2010
BSc Glasg(1941) MB ChB(1945) MRCP(1949) MD(1961) MRCP Edin(1962) MRCP Edin(1962) MRCP Glasg(1966) FRCP Edin(1968) FRCP Glasg(1969) FRCP(1972)

William Francis Monteith Fulton, reader in materia medica at the University of Glasgow and a consultant physician at Stobhill General Hospital, was a pioneer in research into heart attack. He was born in Aberdeen, the son of William Fulton, professor of divinity at the University of Glasgow and principal of Trinity College, and Annie Ida Sutherland née Strachan, the daughter of a musician. He was educated at Bryanston School in Dorset and the University of Glasgow. He qualified in 1945 and completed house posts at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow. He was then a ship’s doctor with the Blue Funnel Line during his National Service.

From 1949 to 1951 he was a registrar at Stobhill Hospital and Western District Hospital, Glasgow. He was a research assistant at the University of Edinburgh from 1952 to 1953, and later became a senior registrar and lecturer in the department of material medica and therapeutics at the University of Glasgow. From 1958 he was a senior lecturer and consultant physician at the University of Glasgow and Stobhill Hospital. In the early 1960s he spent a year at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where he studied with two eminent cardiologists, Helen Taussig and Richard Ross. From 1967 to 1972, he was the foundation professor of medicine at the University of Nairobi. Returning to Stobhill Hospital in Glasgow, he established the cardiology service and a coronary care unit.

While working with the coronary research team at the University of Edinburgh Bill was the first to use coronary stereoarteriography to relate selective histopathology to clinical events. Using radioactive fibrinogen, he demonstrated that coronary thrombosis precedes the development of an acute heart attack or myocardial infarction. This was not the orthodox thinking then and his concept was not immediately accepted. Yet the evidence was based on meticulous data and was irrefutable. He was slow in his projects, always gathering together all the data necessary to support his concepts and, remarkably, he personally drew all the many illustrations in his outstanding and original book of 1965 (The coronary arteries: arteriography, microanatomy, and pathogenesis of obliterative coronary artery disease, Springfield, Illinois, C C Thomas). It was largely a result of his work that rapid treatment with thrombolysis – now a routine – was established for patients having an acute heart attack. By 1967 his original observations were widely recognised – leading to many international lectures and landmark publications.

Bill was a most scrupulous and precise observer of clinical medicine and pathology. He delighted in his discoveries and exemplified the accuracy of a teacher of his generation. He was excited, particularly by his innovative studies of the coronary arteries of the human heart, and transmitted this excitement to those who had the good fortune to work with him.

He was the most courteous of men and a delightful conversationalist. He had a rare, gentle humour and would chuckle wisely, often with a literary commentary, but never at the expense of others. He was a thoughtful and responsible physician who took time. He had little patience with artificially imposed time limits and, of course, his patients took precedence over bureaucrats. He would be pleased to see that many of them are now being weeded out!

He had a wonderful family which meant much to him. He married Frances Isobel née Melrose in 1955. He was survived by his wife, a son and a daughter.

Michael Oliver

[The Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh obituaries www.rcpe.ac.uk/publications/obituaries/2011/fulton.php – accessed 13 June 2011]

(Volume XII, page web)

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