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Biographical entry O'Donoghue, Patrick Desmond (1922 - 2004)

BM BCh Otago 1948; MRCS LRCP 1952; FRCS 1952.

12 May 1922
Kaiapoi, New Zealand
22 December 2004
Cooma, Australia
General surgeon and Urological surgeon


Patrick Desmond O'Donoghue was a surgeon in Kenya. He was born in Kaiapoi, New Zealand, on 12 May 1922, the second son of Michael and Eva O'Donoghue. His father was a teacher and later schools inspector. Pat attended Christchurch Boys' High School, where he excelled in classics, sciences, literature, languages and sport, particularly cricket and rugby. He had a formidable intellect and he loved to write poetry and prose. He went on to study medicine at the University of Otago.

He spent two years in house jobs in Christchurch, where he developed his particular interest in urology, and then, in 1949, sailed to England as a ship's doctor to specialise in surgery. He did a number of junior posts, including one at the Seamen's Hospital, Greenwich, and then became a registrar to Sir Cecil Wakeley at King's College Hospital. There he met Brenda Davies, an anaesthetics registrar at King's, and they were married in 1952. He went on to be a surgical registrar to Neville Stidolph at the Whittington Hospital for two years, gaining extensive experience in genito-urinary surgery, before going on to be RSO at St Paul's under Winsbury-White, Howard Hanley and David Innes Williams. This was followed by six months at the Brompton Hospital under Sir Clement Price Thomas and Charles Drew, who, in 1955, supported him with enthusiasm when he considered applying for a vacancy at St Mary's. However, at the same time a vacancy came up in Nairobi, for which he opted after much deliberation.

His first appointment there was as a locum for Sir Michael Wood with the East African Flying Doctor Association, which cemented his love for the country and its people, and his desire to make a life for himself and his family in Kenya. From this he went on to become a partner in the Nairobi Clinic, where he rapidly developed an outstanding reputation as a very professional, capable and compassionate surgeon. He developed free outreach clinics for the Flying Doctor Service, covering remote areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, where surgery was often difficult and performed under the most basic conditions. He described operating in Tanzania where the humidity was so great that the door of the room had to be kept open, despite the many onlookers. There were times when the throng of patients delayed the departure of the flying doctor and when the runway lights were switched off at the small airport in Nairobi they had to land unannounced at the international airport, pursued by a meteor of which they were unaware, which landed close behind them.

Pat was also chief surgeon at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital, doing pro bono surgery for missionaries and many others. The bulk of his work was at the Nairobi Hospital, where he was well respected and liked by colleagues and nursing staff. Although he specialised in urology, he remained a very general surgeon, dealing with a wide variety of injuries, including severe mauling by leopards, buffaloes, rhinos and elephants. People were also flown in with spear injuries from inter-tribal battles and he also treated casualties from the ANC (African National Congress) bombing of the Norfolk Hotel in Nairobi. Occasionally he was asked to escort patients back to their homes in other countries, including a cardinal who needed to be taken back to Rome, where Pat had an audience with Pope John XXIII.

In 1968 he became president of the East African Association of Surgeons, and was instrumental in setting up the equivalent of a coroner's court, essential to protect both surgeons and patients in the ever-increasing world of litigation, a move which was approved by the attorney general in 1969.

Pat led a very full and productive working life. He loved his surgery. Even after retirement he continued to read his medical and surgical journals with great interest, and wanted to be up to date with the evidence emerging from recent research.

Golf was among his many interests: he continued to play until he could no longer walk round the course (he scorned the use of buggies). He loved to learn, particularly poetry and literature. He would often quote, among others, Keats, Yeats, Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas. He remembered passages from Virgil - he loved Latin.

Pat and Brenda raised their four daughters (Gillian, Jenny, Geraldine and Hilary) in Nairobi. In 2002 Brenda unexpectedly died whilst on holiday in England. This was a terrible blow for Pat. He had described Brenda as his 'life's navigator'. He returned to Kenya for one more year and then moved to be with his daughter Hilary in Cooma, Australia. Pat made Cooma his home for a further year, before he passed away on 22 December 2004, aged 82. He had a strong Christian faith throughout his life and he had a wonderful, quiet sense of humour that remained with him until the day he died. He was an inspirational person.

Hilary Keighley

Sources used to compile this entry: [Information from Hilary Keighley.].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England