Lives of the fellows

Lewis Howard Sevitt

b.3 June 1938 d.29 November 2015
BA Dublin(1960) MB BCh BAO(1962) MRCP(1965) FRCP(1979)

Lewis Howard Sevitt was a consultant physician in general and renal medicine in Hillingdon. He was born in Dublin, Ireland to a second generation of Russian immigrants. His father’s younger brother qualified in medicine at Trinity College, Dublin and his mother’s brother was a Trinity scholar. Lewis was the elder of two brothers who were brought up in a loving, cultured atmosphere of opera and classical music. At an early age he showed his academic ability and also his talent for entertaining his young cousins with his own plays. As a young boy he expressed a desire to be an architect, but his general practitioner pointed out that the architecture of the human body was far more interesting than buildings.

He attended Wesley College, Dublin, where he excelled academically and became the head boy, the first Jewish head boy of this Methodist school. He was very much involved with the drama productions of the school.

His medical education was at Trinity College, University of Dublin, where he continued to show his academic ability by winning every prize and medal every year. In 1960, midway through his studies, he was made a scholar. This most prestigious award to undergraduates was for centuries only given to classicists, although over the years other disciplines have been acknowledged. Lewis’ award was the first for medicine.

After completing his medical training, he did professorial house jobs at Baggot Street Hospital, Dublin, before going to London in 1963. He worked as a house officer at the Royal Northern Hospital for Geraint James [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], who subsequently recommended him to Sheila Sherlock [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XI, p.514]. She assigned him to the renal unit at the Royal Free Hospital as a senior house officer to Stanley Shaldon [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], who was in the process of developing dialysis for chronic renal failure. Lewis’ good humour and clinical skills made a huge contribution to the working life of the department. The following year he spent as senior house officer to Arnold Bloom [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.43].

His next appointment was at the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital as a registrar to Oliver Wrong [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] and within a year he was promoted to senior registrar. Renal medicine was in its early years and Lewis was there in the middle of a rapidly developing specialty, where he made huge contributions to the research taking place. He had brought with him specialist knowledge of haemodialysis, however his greatest contributions were his clinical acumen and his ability to teach. Keith Peters, later to become the regius professor of medicine at Cambridge, replaced Oliver Wrong and further research in immunology of renal disease followed. Keith Peters claimed that he had learned all his clinical skills from Lewis. Many other leading nephrologists benefitted from his teaching while at Hammersmith. Lewis’ appointment as senior tutor gave him the responsibility of teaching junior doctors and MRCP courses.

In 1972, at the age of 33, he was appointed as a general medical consultant to Hillingdon Hospital with a special interest in renal disease. He also retained a weekly session at Hammersmith Hospital. During his time at Hillingdon Hospital he saw the medical department grow from just four full-time colleagues to 30 consultants with one or more sessions. He established renal services and contributed to acute medical services, and helped put medicine at Hillingdon on the map. Lewis began the process which attracted the brightest junior physicians in London to Hillingdon Hospital.

On arriving at Hillingdon Hospital he put his energies into helping acquire a postgraduate centre. Lewis was for many years the Royal College of Physicians’ college tutor for Hillingdon and he took this role very seriously. Lewis’ teaching was legendary and he ran a very successful MRCP course at Hillingdon. He was the first clinical director of medicine at Hillingdon, where he chaired the meetings with good humour. He fought for resources and successfully increased the number of junior doctors.

Clinically Lewis was a very astute general physician with a particular expertise in unravelling complex problems. He never forgot a patient and could hold all their details in his head. Colleagues could turn to him to discuss patients. Lewis was interested in difficult cases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, lactose intolerance and the effects of past steroids in patients who complained of fatigue. He believed that listening to patients and paying attention to detail would eventually lead to a diagnosis.

His private medical practice flourished and expanded, especially after his compulsory retirement from the National Health Service at the age of 65. Although he tried to reduce his practice, he was working until the day he became ill a few months before he died.

Apart from seeing referred patients in his rooms, he was constantly requested by colleagues to solve medical problems and to care for acutely ill patients in London’s private clinics and hospitals. As with everything he did in life he was affable and full of humour when dealing with his patients such that they felt better for just seeing him. He always knew the best specialist to deal with medical areas outside his expertise.

He was an enthusiast regarding the development of the car phone and then the mobile phone, and was never without one. Other technological developments, however, were dismissed as a nuisance. Lewis believed that direct communication using the telephone was always the best way: his patients had his number and he answered them day or night. Because of his extraordinary memory, he could conduct a consultation without reference to notes.

He was tolerant, kind and generous, especially to those less fortunate than himself, and many young students benefitted from his generosity. He supported many causes. Opera was his love and he meticulously planned his life around opera performances. He loved to take parties of friends to performances he thought they would enjoy. Lewis was very private, especially in regard to others, being the epitome of confidentiality. He was always modest, but he was in fact proud of his achievements. His sole request was to be remembered as a physician.

Rosemarie A Baillod

[Hesped for Lewis Sevitt www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uq_rCcIKms8 – accessed 21 February 2017]

(Volume XII, page web)

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