Lives of the fellows

Helen Marie-Louise Carty

b.12 May 1944 d.23 April 2017
MB BCh BAO NUI(1967) MRCPI(1970) DMRD(1972) FFR(1974) FRCR(1975) FCRPI(1981) FRCP(1996) FRCPCH(1997)

Helen Carty was a paediatric radiologist in Liverpool. She was also president of the European Congress of Radiology, lead editor of a major textbook, Imaging children (Edinburgh, Churchill Livingstone, 1994) and a world-renowned expert on the radiology of non-accidental injury. In retirement, she was appointed Deputy Lieutenant and served as High Sheriff of Merseyside in 2012.

Helen was born in Dungarvan, Ireland. She was the second of seven children of Roland John Horsley Moloney and his wife Honor Moran Moloney née Frame. The Moloney family were general merchants: there were no doctors in either family. She attended the local National School in Abbeyside, where many subjects were taught in the Irish language. Her schooling continued at the Dominican Convent School, Dun Laoghaire and at St Mary’s College, Arklow. She entered the medical school of University College Dublin in 1961. She spent the summer of 1964 in Toledo, Ohio and returned to Irish student life richly endowed with new clinical skills. She continued to shine as a student, picking up prizes and medals on the way and graduated with honours in 1967. She played tennis to a high standard.

We met in the Mater Hospital, Dublin in 1965. I was a house surgeon and she joined the firm as a surgical dresser. We married in September 1967. In January 1971, we set off for London, where I was to continue my training as a radiologist. Our car was laden with essential belongings, two small children and a knowledgeable Jack Russell mongrel bitch called Scrap.

Within weeks Helen became a trainee radiologist at St Thomas’ Hospital and soon became known as the Irish girl in the X-ray department. She began to build up a portfolio of peer-reviewed publications.

She was appointed as a consultant radiologist in Liverpool in 1975. Her main duties were in the adult sector at Broadgreen Hospital. Sessions were found in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital to make the job viable. Helen loved the real time interaction between clinicians and radiologists at Alder Hey and went there full time as head of imaging in 1977. She was a natural diagnostician, discerning, distinguishing but, above all, swift. Her strike was precise and unwavering, like the strike of a falcon. She scarcely ever got a diagnosis wrong.

It was hard to secure funding for ‘state-of-the-art’ equipment at a stand-alone children’s hospital. It seemed that getting a CT scanner was beyond a dream. The target to include capital spend and running costs for five years was set at £1m. There were no big corporate donors. Pub and club charities took on the challenge and the Mersey Marathon added its support. The appeal raised £1.25 million. The surplus was used to buy a hydrotherapy pool. Helen was in continuous demand to visit clubs and pubs to receive donations. Quite often, she would be given a man-sized soft toy or two to be raffled in the hospital. She would clip these Fred Flintstones and Yogi Bears into her car seats. They enlivened the school run the next morning.

In 1989 the Berlin Wall fell and health professionals from Eastern Bloc countries were keen to be trained in new techniques. The Halle and NICER projects were examples of teaching ‘missions’ of Western radiologists who ‘went east to teach’ and Helen was in the thick of it. Her reputation as a teacher and lecturer grew quickly. Many of her pupils came on attachment to Alder Hey and became good friends. Not content with getting them to work at her pace by day, she would rejoice in cooking for her charges at home in the evening.

Teams of teachers often talk late into the night. On such a night, the seed was sown for a new textbook. The only comprehensive textbook of children’s radiology reflected practice in the USA. Europe was different. Imaging children, a two volume textbook was published in 1994. The second edition came out in 2005. Helen was a key member of the editorial team. She also contributed scores of papers to peer-reviewed journals and wrote several chapters for monographs.

In 1991, the European Congress of Radiology (ECR), hitherto peripatetic, made its home in Vienna, a city strategically poised between East and West. The 1991 ECR was a huge success, above all for delegates from the Eastern Bloc. Helen was much in demand as a teacher. By the end of the decade, she had become one of the leaders of ECR and was elected president of ECR 2004. There was a strong Celtic flavour to this ECR and over 17,000 delegates worked hard by day and soaked up the geniality by night. At the end, ECR staff formed an impromptu guard of honour and sang ‘I did it my way’. A few weeks later, she retired from radiology.

Helen had insisted that her official car at ECR 2004 was a Jaguar with a large notice on the side proclaiming its provenance: ‘Made in Liverpool’. It was a sign that she had heard the call of Liverpool and its County of Merseyside. In 2005 she was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant. She became High Sherriff in 2012. She gave herself whole-heartedly to the ceremonial. Behind the scenes, she worked tirelessly to identify folk quietly involved in voluntary work and small local charities and get them some recognition.

I have written of her professional life and may have revealed no more than the tip of the iceberg. What really mattered to Helen was her family. As her husband, I seemed to be on top of the pile, sometimes balanced precariously. Our son, Tim, and daughters, Jenny and Sarah, their spouses and six grandchildren, all rejoiced in her generosity of spirit and the warmth of her hospitality. Many will testify to her prowess in the kitchen. She developed skill at wood carving and turning. She had an unflagging interest in nature and wildlife. Photos show she was always smiling.

Austin Carty

[The Telegraph 5 June 2017 – accessed 25 January 2018; The Times 25 July 2017 – accessed 25 January 2018; The Guardian 26 July 2017 – accessed 25 January 2018; Eur Radiol (2017) 27: 4013 – accessed 25 January 2018; The Lancet 2017 389 2100 – accessed 25 January 2018; The Royal College of Radiologists Helen Carty: in her own words – accessed 25 January 2018]

(Volume XII, page web)

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