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Prof. Eric Bywaters

Self Portrait

There wouldn't be many people around who knew the operational CRCMH without having encountered and/or admired the work and legacy of Professor Eric Bywaters. A short run-down on the life and achievements of Prof. Bywaters (and his CRCMH protégé Dr Barbara Ansell CBE) will be appearing on The Shrine soon. But for now, we present the rare opportunity to view and enjoy this rather stunning self-portrait sketch, penned for one of his patients as an autograph in 1957. And yes - the patient in question assures us that Bywaters did look just like he depicted himself...

"The Happy Professor"

We are indebted to our friend John Ramanachala for his permission to share this lovely artefact with you all.

Om Arunachala Om Ramanachala


Below is our cached reproduction of Prof. Bywaters' obituary as it appeared in the British Medical Journal, penned by Allan Dixon. To see the document in its original location on the BMJ website, go HERE.

Eric George Lapthorne Bywaters

Rheumatologist who discovered the cause of fatal kidney failure in victims of the Blitz

Eric George Lapthorne Bywaters, former consultant rheumatologist and professor of rheumatology the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital (b 1910; q Middlesex Hospital Medical School 1933; FRCP, CBE), d 2 April 2003.

Eric George Lapthorne Bywaters played an important role in the rise of modern rheumatology as part of general medicine. After qualifying with a gold medal and honours in pathology, he worked at the Courtauld Institute of Pathology on the metabolism of articular cartilage. In 1937 he was invited to the Massachusetts General Hospital, where he studied patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, returning to the Hammersmith Hospital in 1939 and taking on the rheumatism clinic.

During the bombing of London he studied the "crush syndrome" in people whose limbs had been trapped by falling masonry and who were released by the rescue services only to die later from kidney failure. This work was later transferred to a Medical Research Council unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne. The cause, Bywaters found, was release of the protein myoglobin into the circulation from crushed muscles. This blocked the tiny ducts in the kidneys, preventing urine and waste products from being filtered from the blood. He used animal models to show that alkaline fluids by mouth or intravenously protected the kidney and kept the patient alive until the blocked renal tubules healed. He was the first to introduce the Kolff artificial kidney in the United Kingdom.

In 1947 he took on the additional appointment of director of the special unit for juvenile rheumatism at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital at Taplow. There he established a world renowned centre for rheumatic fever and later, when rheumatic fever was conquered, for children and adults with chronic forms of arthritis.

He received numerous international honours and was a renowned teacher. At least 349 doctors trained with him as junior doctors and research fellows, many from abroad, creating a medical diaspora of international significance. He was an acknowledged expert on the pathology of rheumatic and bone diseases, and when some of his patients left him their bodies for research, he said that he "uncovered a wealth of material left behind on the autopsy table and disregarded by conventional pathologists."

An ardent collector of historical books and material related to rheumatism, he was for 20 years honorary Heberden librarian at the Royal College of Physicians. He was a talented portrait artist and caricaturist; a self portrait sketched for one of his patients in 1957 can be seen online at the Canadian Red Cross Memorial Hospital Shrine. He was also a keen gardener. A prized tree in his garden had grown from a seed that he collected from the plane tree on Cos under which Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is said have taught.

Predeceased by his wife, Betty, in 1998, he leaves three daughters and four grandchildren.

A memorial service was held on 5 July 2003 at 11 am at the Royal Society of Medicine, London W1.

Allan Dixon



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