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Denis Graham Melrose

Male 1921 - 2007  (86 years)



  • Name Denis Graham Melrose  [1, 2, 3
    Birth 20 Jun 1921  Cape Town, South Africa Find all individuals with events at this location   [2, 3
    Education abt 1934 - 1939  Sedbergh School Find all individuals with events at this location   [3
    Education abt 1939 - 1942  University College, Oxford Find all individuals with events at this location   [3
    Education abt 1942 - 1945  University College Hospital Medical School, Bloomsbury Find all individuals with events at this location   [3
    Degree/Qualif. abt 1945  Oxford University Find all individuals with events at this location ; BM, BCh  [2, 3
    Degree/Qualif. abt 1945  MRCP, LRCS  [2
    Occupation abt 1945 - 1946  Hammersmith Hospital, Acton Find all individuals with events at this location ; Junior doctor  [2
    Military Service 1946 - 1948  Hong Kong Find all individuals with events at this location ; Surgeon, RN  [2, 3
    Occupation 1948 -  Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Acton Find all individuals with events at this location ; Lecturer, later Reader  [2
    Occupation 1968 - 1983  Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Acton Find all individuals with events at this location ; Professor of Surgical Science  [2
    Degree/Qualif. bef 1983  FRCS, FRCP  [2
    Death 02 Jul 2007  Santa Eulalia, Ibiza, Spain Find all individuals with events at this location   [2, 3
    Notes 
    • Melrose, Prof. Denis Graham. Born 20 June 1921; s of late Thomas Robert Gray Melrose, FRCS and Floray Collings; m 1945, Ann, d of late Kathleen Tatham Warter; two s. Died 2 July 2007. Professor of Surgical Science, Royal Postgraduate Medical School, 1968-83, Emeritus since 1983. Education: Sedbergh Sch.; University Coll., Oxford; UCH London. Career: MA, BM, BCh, MRCP, FRCS. Junior appts at Hammersmith Hosp. and Redhill County Hosp., Edgware, 1945; RNVR, 1946-48; subseq. Lectr, later Reader, Royal Postgrad. Med. Sch.; Nuffield Travelling Fellow, USA, 1956; Fulbright Fellow, 1957; Associate in Surgery, Stanford Univ. Med. Sch., 1958. Fellow: RPMS, 1993; ICSM, 1999. Publications: numerous papers in learned journals and chapters in books, particularly on heart surgery, heart lung machine and medical engineering. Recreations: Sailing, ski-ing. Club: Royal Naval Sailing Association. Address: Ses Roques Port, Ibiza. [Who Was Who, 2007]
    • Professor Denis Melrose, who died on July 2 aged 86, played a crucial role in the design and development of the heart-lung machine used in open-heart surgery; his method of safely stopping the human heart and reducing the leakage of blood - a technique called "cold cardioplegia" - is still routinely used today.
      In Britain some 300,000 open-heart operations are performed each year, the heart-lung machine bypassing the heart and lungs, taking over both the pumping of the blood and its oxygenation. In early operations of this kind the heart continued to beat, causing blood to leak and severe difficulty for the surgeon, who was presented with a moving target.
      In 1955 Melrose and his colleagues, using potassium citrate and then potassium chloride, succeeded in safely stopping the hearts of anaesthetised dogs connected to a heart-lung machine.
      Melrose's subsequent experiments, using the isolated hearts of rabbits and rats, established optimum concentrations of potassium chloride to stop the heart, and ways of preserving the heart while it was starved of blood. This was achieved by bathing the heart in a solution of a precise concentration of various salts and reducing the temperature to below 28°C, the technique known as "cold cardioplegia".
      He later pursued a second career in sports medicine, inventing a form of leggings which countered the effects of deep vein thrombosis by reducing swelling; this saved hundreds of lives.
      Denis Graham Melrose was born on June 20 1921 at Cape Town, where his father. a naval doctor who had survived repeated sinkings in the Crimea, had established a medical practice. After the family's return to England, Denis was sent to be educated at Sedbergh.
      He arrived at University College, Oxford, with a history bursary, but found that his father had enrolled him as a medical student. When war was declared in 1939 Denis ran away to Portsmouth to join up, but the college proctors followed him and brought him back to study for his medical degree.
      He suffered serious injury when a fellow student, armed with a gun in a college window, fired three bullets at Melrose and two of his friends as they left the refectory. His best friend was killed instantly, and, as he bent down to see what had happened, Melrose himself was shot in the chest, the bullet apparently being deflected from his heart by a pen in his breast pocket; the third student was hit in the hand.
      Melrose nearly died, but made a full recovery and completed his studies at University College, despite a period of rustication for daubing Shelley's memorial with various cosmetics, including nail polish.
      During the Second World War, Melrose enrolled at University College Hospital, where his training was disrupted by the constant influx of people injured by bombs. During his midwifery course he would follow a nursing sister on her bicycle to visit the homes of expectant mothers; occasionally he had to empty a drawer to make a cradle, while the husband often lay in the same bed throughout the proceedings.
      On qualifying in the spring of 1945 Melrose married, and joined the Royal Navy as an ear, nose and throat doctor, posted to Hong Kong. On his return two years later he joined Hammersmith Hospital, determined to pursue his dream of conducting research into open-heart surgery. He worked at the Buxton Brown farm one day a week, finding a way, using chemicals, of sustaining a rabbit's heart so that it would keep beating, a technique which later fascinated Prince Philip during a royal visit.
      Dogs were used in early experiments to find a method of oxygenating blood while the heart was being operated on; later larger animals were used. By 1957 Melrose was applying his technique to human patients, making possible operations to repair congenital defects in the two walls inside the heart, which was opened wide for some minutes while circulation to the rest of the body was maintained by a heart-lung machine.
      When the Medical Research Council refused to back Melrose in his work, a Hungarian refugee, Francis Kellerman, took out hefty loans to build six prototypes. With William (Bill) Cleland, a surgeon, Melrose worked out the technical procedure, while Melrose's wife and other members of the team knitted replacement valves on cotton reels; after it became the custom to attach a rose to the machine's pump, Melrose was delighted when a new strain of rose was named after him.
      Melrose believed in sharing his knowledge with others around the world. He was made a citizen of Bogotá and given a golden key, this and the eponymous rose being the only honours he ever received. He was made especially welcome in Tito's Yugoslavia, where he was one of the few foreigners allowed to buy a house, thanks to his contact with General Izadore Papo, head of the Army Medical Corps.
      Approaching retirement at the age of 62, Melrose decided he wanted to return to the sun - his office at Hammersmith had faced north - so he bought a house on Ibiza overlooking San Antonio harbour. It was a perfect spot to indulge his lifelong passion for sailing. He and his wife lived there until 2002, when they moved into a smaller flat on the island.
      Never a disciple of the medical establishment, Melrose's maverick tendencies appear to have prohibited him from receiving the public honours which might otherwise have been his. He was, however, elected a Fellow of both the Royal College of Surgery and the Royal College of Physicians.
      Denis Melrose married, in 1945, Ann Warter, whom he had met at Oxford; she survives him with their two sons.
      [Daily Telegraph, 16 Jul 2007]
    • see also obituary in The Independent 10 Sep 2007 online
    Person ID I3619  Tatham | Meaburn branch | Spouse
    Last Modified 22 Jun 2012 

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  • Event Map Click to display
    Link to Google MapsBirth - 20 Jun 1921 - Cape Town, South Africa Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsEducation - abt 1934 - 1939 - Sedbergh School Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsEducation - abt 1939 - 1942 - University College, Oxford Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsEducation - abt 1942 - 1945 - University College Hospital Medical School, Bloomsbury Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDegree/Qualif. - BM, BCh - abt 1945 - Oxford University Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Junior doctor - abt 1945 - 1946 - Hammersmith Hospital, Acton Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsMilitary Service - Surgeon, RN - 1946 - 1948 - Hong Kong Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Lecturer, later Reader - 1948 - - Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Acton Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsOccupation - Professor of Surgical Science - 1968 - 1983 - Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Acton Link to Google Earth
    Link to Google MapsDeath - 02 Jul 2007 - Santa Eulalia, Ibiza, Spain Link to Google Earth
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  • Sources 
    1. [S02] BMD Index, marriage reg Marylebone, 2Q1945.
      Denis G Melrose = Ann M Warter

    2. [S18] Who's Who / Who was Who.

    3. [S11] Newspaper, Daily Telegraph, 16 Jul 2007.
      obituary