Lives of the fellows

David Wainwright Evans

b.3 July 1927 d.22 November 2014
BSc Wales(1947) MB BCh(1950) DCH(1955) MRCP(1958) MD(1964) FRCP(1974)

David Wainwright Evans was a consultant cardiologist to the East Anglian Health Authority, working at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, and Papworth Hospital. He was born in Cardiff, the son of John David Evans and Lucy May Evans née Field. He determined at the age of seven that he would be a doctor, and achieved that aim (despite failing his public health and vaccination module at medical school in Cardiff and having to retake) by qualifying as a doctor in 1950.

He spent his first couple of years working in Wales, and in 1952 entered the RAF, where his love for aviation was truly born. He had been interested as a boy, but restricted only to model airplanes – now he was able to take to the air, flying no less than 25 different planes.

In 1954 he returned to medical practice in Wales, as a senior house officer in paediatrics at the Welsh National School of Medicine. From 1955 to 1958 he was a registrar in medicine at East Glamorgan Hospital, and then spent a year as a house surgeon in obstetrics and gynaecology at the Welsh National School of Medicine. In 1959 he worked his way to Australia as the ship’s surgeon on the Port Pirie. He carried out locums in Perth and Sydney, before returning to take up the position of registrar (and then senior registrar) in medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where amongst other achievements he pioneered cardiac rescusitation.

In 1967 David took up the post of consultant cardiologist to the East Anglian Health Authority, based at Papworth and Addenbrooke’s hospitals, a post he held until his retirement in 1988. During this time he set up the coronary care unit at Addenbrooke’s, established coronary arteriography (which he taught himself following a visit to the USA in 1968) and echocardiography at both Addenbrooke’s and Papworth, and championed measures to prevent premature coronary disease. He managed to combine work with flying, often taking small planes out to his further-flung clinics, which in turn led to some much-valued friendships with the obliging owners of the landing strips!

He remained consistently opposed, on ethical grounds, to heart transplantation. This began when asked to help start the procedure at Papworth in the mid-1970s, and centred around his opposition to the idea that ‘brain stem death is death’. He realised that transplantation depended on taking the donor’s still beating heart, thereby, in his view, killing the donor. From this point on, he campaigned tirelessly to spread information and encourage informed debate, initially through formal professional channels until 1980, when a letter in the Lancet (‘Cardiac transplantation’ Lancet 1980 315[8174] 933-4) sent the topic into the public domain. His opposition did not make him popular, but even a couple of days before he died, he continued to correspond with like-minded medical folk worldwide, and did what he could to ensure that others would continue to oppose heart transplantation after his death.

In addition to his work at Addenbrooke’s and Papworth, David enjoyed his position as an associate lecturer at Cambridge University, and valued his fellowship of Queens’ College, Cambridge. This was to provide him well into retirement with not only the wonderful college chapel, which he regularly supported and enjoyed, but also with the intellectual discussions he felt perhaps were lacking around the dinner table at home.

It was following the move to Cambridge that David was able more fully to indulge his love of flying. He described soaring flight as being, next to medicine, his raison d’être. It gave him a necessary and revitalising distraction from the world of work, through immensely satisfying personal achievements, to life-enhancing religious experiences. Typical of the latter were cold flights over the Alps, flying in wave systems over Wales and Scotland, and in seeing the building of clouds of awesome power. The common factor in all these was, he felt, the intense feeling of humility engendered, and the perfect understanding of one’s own personal insignificance in the vast universe.

David was a keen golfer and hockey player in his youth, and in latter years, when physical ability prevented participating further, he simply transferred his energy to spectating instead. His never-ending thirst for knowledge meant he pursued endless new tasks and projects throughout retirement, including piano lessons and a thorough acquisition of music theory (his meticulous attention to detail never waned), and embracing modern technology in all forms.

His wicked sense of humour, not often let loose in public, but frequently witnessed by close friends, would often reduce company to tears of laughter, and his generosity was legendary.

He was survived by his wife Rosemary (née Morris), whom he married in 1958, a son and a daughter, and five grandchildren.

Deryn Coe

(Volume XII, page web)

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