Lives of the fellows

Cyril Thomas Flynn

b.13 November 1930 d.30 September 2015
MBE(1969) MB ChB Birm(1957) FRCP(1984)

Tom Flynn was a nephrologist in the Royal Air Force and then in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. He was born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, the son of Joseph Flynn and Irene Goodwin, however he grew up in Leicester, where, together with his brother Ron, he was raised by an aunt. He attended the Gateway School. After two years of National Service, he studied medicine at Birmingham University.

He was a house physician at Ronkswood Hospital, Worcester, and then, in 1958, joined the Royal Australian Air Force as a general physician, stationed in Williamtown, New South Wales, and later Penang, Malaysia.

In 1963 he returned to Worcester and Ronkswood as a senior house physician, and then joined the Royal Air Force in 1964. He was posted to RAF Halton, where he worked at Princess Mary’s Hospital. It was there that he worked in the pioneering renal unit, where a mobile dialysis unit had been developed that could be transported in specially adapted aircraft. Tom led a team to many parts of the world, treating sick service personnel. In 1969, he was awarded the MBE for his innovative work in the still relatively new field of haemodialysis.

He was posted to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, in 1968 and then in 1970 took a sabbatical at Jervis Street Hospital, Dublin, studying vascular access surgery techniques for dialysis patients, enabling him to develop what would be known as ‘the Flynn shunt’, used for several decades.

In 1971 Tom returned to RAF Halton, taking command of the renal unit and bringing in many new techniques. His innovative work continued, increasing the survival rate of patients in acute renal failure. A former colleague, David Rainford, writes: ‘At Halton Tom had a passion for the management of acute reversible renal failure. This work was vital to the Armed Forces as the reversible nature of the condition could lead to the return of servicemen to active duty. The results for survival following treatment at Princess Mary’s RAF Hospital Halton were said to be amongst the best in the world and it received many referrals from the NHS and abroad. In 1973 he organised and hosted the first international meeting on acute renal failure for 10 years. This brought together some of the foremost workers in the field, re-kindling interest in this vital area.’

In 1975, Tom resigned his commission with the rank of wing commander and moved to Des Moines, Iowa. During his time in Iowa, he continued to gain great prominence by his ground-breaking work in the realm of continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD). Tom introduced the technique of adding insulin to dialysate to ensure better control of blood sugars. He was also the first to insist that blind diabetic patients could perform their own sterile exchanges necessary for safe CAPD, for which he developed a titanium needle guide, an essential tool for patients to complete sterile exchange. In 1984, Tom was made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.

He became medical director of the renal unit at Iowa Lutheran Hospital and then later at Iowa Methodist Medical Center until 1988. He continued to be a partner in Kidney Care in Des Moines, growing a single dialysis unit to six units prior to his retirement in 1999. He also worked as chief of medicine at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.

Tom was a man of many interests. He had a love for travelling and did so extensively. Classical music, books, mathematics and philosophy were great loves. He was also a prolific artist, writer and poet.

When Tom died from cancer he was survived by his much-loved former spouse Theresa (née Somers), his children Stephen, Jane and Christine, and grandchildren Dan and Jess.

Steve Flynn

(Volume XII, page web)

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