Lives of the fellows

Robert Stuart Bonser

b.28 December 1953 d.29 October 2012
MB BCh Wales(1977) MRCP(1979) FRCS(1982) FRCS cardiothoracic surgery(1989) FRCP(2001)

Robert Stuart Bonser was a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. He was born in Walsall, in the heart of the Black Country, and was educated at the local secondary school. He subsequently won a place to study medicine at Cardiff University. Following his graduation in 1977, his first intention was to become a physician, and he gained his membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) only two years after medical school.

Bob subsequently developed an interest in cardiac surgery, completing the cardiothoracic surgical registrar rotation in the West Midlands between 1981 and 1985. With the encouragement of Leon Abrams and David Clarke he then joined the Royal Brompton Hospital and London Chest Hospital. Recognition of his talent and aptitude for cardiac surgery allowed him to rapidly progress from registrar to senior registrar.

A key influence in Bob’s training was a one year sabbatical with Stuart Jamieson in Minnesota. Training in cardiopulmonary transplantation at this key stage of his career, with such a pioneer in this dynamic field of surgery, allowed Bob to develop a phenomenal grounding in the specialty, which proved to be the bedrock of his future clinical progression.

He took up the post of consultant at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in 1990 and, within two years of his appointment, had developed the Birmingham heart and lung transplant unit. As director of the unit he established one of the most prolific clinical research programmes in the UK. Bob went on to perform numerous national roles, including a successful term as chairman of the Cardiothoracic Advisory Group in Transplantation. His clinical research on donor physiology and management has become a landmark in this complex area of development.

In parallel with his interest in cardiothoracic transplantation Bob developed an internationally renowned aortic surgical programme, which once again was underpinned by an intensive research activity. Bob’s recognition in the international aortic surgical fraternity was a reflection of his extraordinary hard work and his highly regarded surgical ability.

He was always quietly spoken, modest and polite to everybody. He championed patient’s rights and cared for his staff with a real passion. He was a true leader who was unanimously respected by all those who had the pleasure to work with him.

Bob’s tirelessly inquisitive mind stimulated him to engage in clinical and basic science research in numerous areas of cardiac surgery, collaborating locally, nationally and internationally. He published extensively on myocardial metabolism and myocardial protection strategies in cardiac surgery, organ function and preservation in heart and lung transplantation, cerebral and spinal cord metabolism and protection during aortic surgery, amongst many other areas of interest. He supervised 10 MD/PhDs, three of whom were honoured by Hunterian professorships at the Royal College of Surgeons.

He attended national and international meetings across the world, making major contributions with provocative and beautifully complete pieces of work. Whilst unwell, he was in Prague on the front row at the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation when a synopsis of much of his work was presented.

Bob died on 29 October 2012, aged just 59, after a period of illness which sadly shortened his prodigious career in cardiac and cardiothoracic transplant surgery. Bob fought his illness courageously and, if we are judged by what we achieve in the time we are given to achieve it, Bob had few equals.

Ian C Wilson
Jorge G Mascaro

[Reproduced, with permission, from Plarr’s Lives of the Fellows of the Royal College of Surgeons of England http://livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/]

(Volume XII, page web)

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