Lives of the fellows

Hewan Archdale Dewar

b.29 March 1913 d.5 November 2012
MB BS Durham(1935) MD(1938) MRCP(1938) FRCP(1954)

Hewan Archdale Dewar was a cardiologist in Newcastle who was a pioneer in the fibrinolytic treatment of coronary thrombosis. Born in Stanley, County Durham, a mining town, he was the son of David Alexander Dewar, a local GP, and his wife, Mary née Achdale, whose father, Thomas Hewan Archdale, was a clergyman. All three of their sons lived until their nineties. Educated at Newcastle Preparatory School and Fettes College in Edinburgh, he studied medicine at Durham University and the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle upon Tyne. Qualifying in 1935, he did house jobs at the RVI where he was influenced in cardiology by Sir William Hume [Munk’s Roll, Vol.V, p.206]. Moving to London in 1937, he spent a year at the newly founded Postgraduate Medical School before returning to Newcastle as a medical registrar.

When the Second World War broke out, having enlisted in the supplementary reserve, he was called up in 1939 and sent to a general hospital in Palestine as a medical specialist. In 1943 he spent time in various hospitals in Malta and Egypt and then returned to the UK in 1944 and took part in the Normandy landings and European invasion.

Demobilised in 1946, he returned to the RVI and worked as a registrar with Fred J Nattrass [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.421], the newly appointed professor of medicine. Since Nattrass at the time was interested in myasthenia gravis which was often associated with tumours of the thymus gland, Dewar conducted a series of experiments on thymus secretions which ultimately failed to show the function of the gland. Although he wrote that the research was ‘logical, fundamentally futile, and not unique in having the researcher as sole beneficiary’, he felt it was this work that helped him secure his consultancy.

In 1947 he was appointed assistant physician to the RVI and worked with Charles Armstrong [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.28]. The following year he was appointed consultant physician to the Gateshead Group of Hospitals and visiting consultant physician to the Ministry of Pensions Hospital at Dunston Hill. Throughout his time in the NHS, he decided to spend two sessions a week in private practice, saying that he learnt more medicine from the individual care involved than he did from hospital work. On deciding to specialise in cardiology, he started to revive the department – then a single room in a basement – that Sir William Hume had retired from eight years before. He performed the first cardiac catheterisation in Newcastle in 1949 and continued to carry out that procedure and ordinary and transseptal angiography until he retired. In 1968 he set up the Coronary Care Unit at the RVI and occasionally stayed overnight in the hospital. A possibly apocryphal story claims that a student nurse found him ‘wandering’ around in a dressing gown and ordered him ‘back to bed’.

His interest in the potential of fibrinolysis began in 1961 when, with A R Horler and A J Cassells-Smith, he published, ‘Fibrinolytic treatment of coronary thrombosis. A pilot study’ (BMJ, 1961, 2, 671-5). More studies followed, including an account of 75 cases which appeared two years later and a multicentre trial, seven years later, conducted with a Belgian physician from Leuven. He continued the work throughout his career, publishing the results of trials of systemic intravenous fibrinolytic therapy in 1979, the year after he retired, and a final paper, ‘The effect of exercise and heart rate on fibrinolytic activity’ (Blood Coagul Fibrinolysis, 1993, 4, 501-3), appeared 11 years later.

One of the first in the UK to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation, he was often called upon to lecture on the subject. From 1950 he was secretary of the association of local physicians (originally called the Association of Physicians of Region no.1 and now the Association of North of England Physicians), which provided him with helpful contacts when he ran large collaborative trials in the area, and in 1960 he was elected a member of the British Cardiac Society (BCS). At the RVI he served on numerous committees and took a full part in hospital life, abandoning his private work in 1970 to enable him to do so. President of the Newcastle and Northern Counties Medical Society in 1970, four years later he co-chaired a meeting of the BCS in Newcastle. By the time he retired in 1978, the original basement room had become a department with a building designed for outpatient cardiological consultations, investigations and teaching.

For many years after retirement he continued his research on fibrinolysis. He also became chairman of Northern Ash and was involved personally in antismoking campaigns in the local schools and among NHS staff. A regular attendee of meetings of the Newcastle Cardiac Club, he was also honorary secretary for 27 years and president for nine of the Association of North of England Physicians. He published The story of cardiology in Newcastle (Durham, Durham Academic Press, 1998), which was popular with local medical graduates but not a financial success. On moving to Wylam, a country village halfway between Newcastle and Hexham, he developed an interest in gardening.

in 1947 he married Margaret Isobel née Thomson, whose father, Alexander, was a marine surveyor. When he met her, she was Charles Armstrong’s private secretary at the RVI. They had twin children, a girl and boy. His later years were saddened by his daughter’s increasing disabilities due to multiple sclerosis. When he died, peacefully at home, Margaret survived him, together with his son, John, who had recently retired as a clinical oncologist in Dundee and is a fellow of the RCP; daughter, Caroline; five grandchildren and several great grandchildren.

RCP editor

[BMJ 2013 346 266; Association of North of England Physicians; British Cardiac Society – all accessed 7 December 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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