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In Memoriam: Robert Bonser

Queen Elizabeth Hospital

links imageIt is with great sorrow that we announce the death of long-time ISHLT member, Professor Robert Stuart Bonser, who passed away on 29th October 2012 after a period of illness, sadly shortening his prodigious career in cardiac and cardiothoracic transplant surgery.

Bob was born in Walsall, in the Black Country in the Midlands of the United Kingdom. He was educated at the local secondary school and subsequently won a place to study medicine at Cardiff University.

Following graduation in 1977, his first intentions were to become a physician, passing the exam for the College of Physicians (MRCP) only 2 years after medical school.

Bob subsequently developed an interest in cardiac surgery, completing the cardiothoracic surgical registrar rotation in the West Midlands between 1981 and 1985. He then joined The Royal Brompton Hospital and London Chest Hospital; recognition of his talent and aptitude for cardiac surgery allowed him to rapidly progress from registrar to senior registrar.

A key influence was a one year sabbatical with Stuart Jamieson in Minnesota. Training with a pioneer in cardiopulmonary transplantation at this significant stage allowed Bob to develop a phenomenal grounding in the specialty, which proved to be the bedrock of his future career.

He took up the post at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in 1990 and had developed the Birmingham Heart and Lung Transplant unit within 2 years of his appointment. As Director of the Transplant Unit he established one of the most prolific clinical research programmes in the UK. Bob went on to perform numerous national roles, including a successful term as Chairman of the Cardiothoracic Advisory Group in Transplantation. His clinical research on donor physiology and management has become a landmark.

In parallel with his interest in cardiothoracic transplantation Bob developed an international renowned aortic surgical programme, which once again was underpinned by an intensive research activity. Bob's recognition in the international aortic surgical fraternity was a reflection of his extraordinary hard work and his highly regarded surgical ability.

He was always quietly spoken, modest, and polite to everybody; a champion of patients' rights who cared for his staff with a real passion. He was a true leader who was unanimously respected by all those who had the pleasure to work with him.

Bob's tirelessly inquisitive mind stimulated him to engage in clinical and basic science research in numerous areas of cardiac surgery, collaborating locally, nationally and internationally. He published extensively on myocardial metabolism and myocardial protection strategies in cardiac surgery, organ function and preservation in heart and lung transplantation, cerebral and spinal cord metabolism and protection during aortic surgery, amongst many other areas of interest. He has over 200 peer reviewed publications and has supervised 10 MD/PhDs, three of whom were honoured by Hunterian Professorships at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

He attended the ISHLT meetings almost every year, making major contributions with provocative and beautifully complete pieces of work. Whilst unwell, he was there in the front row when a synopsis of much of his work was presented in Prague.

Bob fought his illness courageously and if we are judged by what we achieve in the time that we are given to achieve it, Bob had few equals. His legacy lives on in Birmingham, across the UK and around the world.