Pioneering heart and lung surgeon Christopher Parish passes away, aged 97.

Christopher Parish. Christopher Parish.

Friday, June 6, 2014
1:51 PM

Christopher Parish, who has died at the age of 97, led pioneering work on heart-lung surgery as the first cardiothoracic surgeon at Papworth Hospital.

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Mr Parish was appointed initially as thoracic surgeon at Papworth Hospital in 1952, though he went on to work in and develop cardiothoracic surgery.

At that time, tuberculosis had been brought under control so Papworth Hospital’s work as a tuberculosis sanatorium was fading whilst the number of cardiac cases on the waiting list was increasing.

On arrival at the hospital, he found that its surgical facilities were very limited and unsuited to the requirements for the hospital’s changing role so he set out a pioneering vision to establish a specialist cardiothoracic surgery unit at Papworth.

Mr Parish was able to convince the Regional Health Authority that cardiac surgery required dedicated radiographers and clinicians and subsequently recruited the late Ben Milstein who developed open heart surgery at the hospital.

This attracted fellow cardiothoracic surgeons to join the team and paved the way for many milestones in Papworth Hospital’s remarkable history including the UK’s first successful heart transplant and the World’s first heart- lung and liver transplant.

Prior to his time at Papworth Hospital, during the Second World War, Mr Parish served in the Army, working at field hospitals for the 8th Army in the North African Desert and then moved on to the landings at Salerno and Anzio in Italy where he performed life-saving surgery.

On one occasion, he was presented with a patient suffering from a chest wound and surgery on his heart was essential if his life was to be saved.

At the time, the concept of heart surgery was highly controversial amongst his clinical colleagues but the operation was essential to save the man’s life.

With no relatives or next-of-kin to consult with, he decided to perform the operation.

The patient survived and it was this decisive wartime experience which proved to him that heart surgery could be done and led him into cardiothoracic surgery at Papworth Hospital.

Today Papworth Hospital is the UK’s largest specialist cardiothoracic hospital.

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