Lives of the fellows

Kenneth William Gordon Heathfield

b.6 June 1917 d.8 December 2012
MRCS LRCP(1940) MB BS Lond(1940) MD(1943) MRCP(1947) FRCP(1968)

Ken Heathfield was a consultant neurologist in northeast London. He was educated at Hackney Downs School and then entered St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School, from where he qualified in 1940. His career in neurology really started when, during the Second World War and serving in the RAMC, he was stationed at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where he was involved in treating repatriated members of the armed forces suffering from neurological injuries. His contemporaries at that time included Michael Ashby [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], Derek Denny-Brown [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VII, p.146], William Gooddy [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], William Aldren Turner [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IV, p.390], Maurice Parsonage [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], Sean McArdle [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.326] and Hugh Garland [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.191], with whom he was stationed in India towards the end of the war.

Eventually Ken became a consultant neurologist at King George Hospital, Ilford, Whipps Cross and Oldchurch hospitals, where he saw extraordinarily large numbers of patients, compared with current practice. Although his handwriting was notoriously illegible, the printed letters to general practitioners showed conclusively that he was a diagnostician of the highest order. In his memoirs he considered the introduction of sulphonamides and penicillin and the evolution of antituberculous drugs in the treatment of meningitis to be the most important neurological developments during his professional life which spanned over 40 years.

Although principally a clinician, Ken published articles on epilepsy, peripheral neuropathy and the demographics of Huntington’s disease, but perhaps his greatest contribution to neurology was the development (with Fred Lees [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.271]) of neurological services throughout Essex, resulting in the establishment of Oldchurch Hospital (now Queen’s Hospital), Romford, as a neurosurgical centre.

Throughout his life Ken maintained a wide range of interests and hobbies, which he continued to develop during his long retirement. These including art, classical music, history, ornithology, bridge and photography. He travelled extensively pursuing his interest in historic sites, particularly churches and cathedrals. He had a great interest in horticulture and it was rumoured that he always carried a pair of secateurs; he had secretly taken cuttings of plants from most of the National Trust properties and stately homes throughout Essex and the home countries. He was an active member of numerous clubs and societies, many of which he was a past president, including the Hunterian Society and the Rotary Club of Chigwell. With his failing eyesight he became an avid consumer of talking books and he continued to attend book clubs. In his early nineties he was still an active member of the University of the Third Age. He was also a freeman of the City of London.

Ken last attended the Association of British Neurologists two years before he died. None of his contemporaries were there: he had outlived most of them. However, during the lunch several members of his old junior staff came to see him and made a fuss of him. It was clear that those who worked for him held him in respect and affection. He enjoyed it very much.

Ken was married to Dorothy, whom he met in India, the ceremony marked by a memorable photograph of the bride in white, the groom and attendants in khaki, set against a backdrop of the distant Himalayas. He was survived by Dorothy, his son John, his daughters Angela and Rosemary, and his numerous grandchildren. He was a fine clinical neurologist who had many interests outside of medicine. He was a great raconteur who brought great joy to all who knew him.

John Jestico

(Volume XII, page web)

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