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Biographical entry Cleland, William Paton (1912 - 2005)

MRCS and FRCS 1946; MB BS Adelaide 1934; MRCP 1939; LRCP 1946; FRCP 1967; FACS 1969.

30 May 1912
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
29 March 2005
Goodworth Clatford, Hampshire, UK
Thoracic surgeon


Bill Cleland was a pioneering thoracic surgeon who helped develop open heart surgery in London in the 1950s. He was born in Sydney, New South Wales, on 30 May 1912, the son of Sir John Burton Cleland, professor of pathology at the University of Adelaide, and Dora Isabel Robson. He was proud to be the 26th head of his ancient Scottish family who were kinsmen of William Wallace. He was educated at Scotch College, Adelaide, and Adelaide University, where he qualified in 1934. He then completed two years as house physician and house surgeon at the Royal Adelaide and the Adelaide Children’s Hospital.

He went to England, to King’s College Hospital, in 1938 to be a resident medical officer and passed the MRCP. With the outbreak of war he was evacuated with King’s to Horton, Surrey, where he was busy in the Emergency Medical Service dealing with wartime injuries. This generated an interest in surgery: he quickly passed the FRCS and then went on in 1948 to the Brompton Hospital as house physician and resident medical officer, where he was influenced by Russell Brock, Tudor Edwards and Price Thomas. He soon specialised in chest surgery, moving gradually on into cardiac surgery.

He was appointed consultant thoracic surgeon at King’s College Hospital and the Brompton in 1948, and the following year as a lecturer at the Hammersmith, where he worked with Denis Melrose on the prototype heart-lung machine with which he performed the first successful open-heart operation in Britain in 1953. He was a pioneer in the subsequent development of cardiac by-pass surgery, which he described in a classic paper in Thorax in 1983. He wrote more than 70 papers, and was much sought after abroad, setting up cardiothoracic units in Russia, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and Iceland. He was consultant adviser in thoracic surgery to the Department of Health and the Royal Navy.

He married Norah Goodhart in 1940 who predeceased him. They had two sons and a daughter. In retirement he continued to follow up his old patients, and enjoy his hobbies of fishing, the opera, gardening and beekeeping. A strongly built man, he became somewhat frail in old age, and died peacefully at home in Goodworth Clatford, Hampshire, on 29 March 2005, just before his 93rd birthday.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Independent 9 May 2005; The Guardian 21 May 2005; BMJ 2005 330 1212, with portrait.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England