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Biographical entry Barros D'Sa, Aires Agnelo Barnabé (1939 - 2007)

OBE 2000; MB BCh BAO Belfast 1965; FRCS Edinburgh 1969; FRCS 1969; MD 1975.

9 June 1939
Nairobi, Kenya
29 January 2007
Trauma surgeon and Vascular surgeon


Aires Barros D'Sa was a pioneering vascular and trauma surgeon in Belfast. He was born in 1939 in Nairobi, Kenya, into a Goan family. His father, Inaçio Francisco Purifcação Saúde D'Sa, was a civil servant. His mother was Maria Eslina Inês Barros. Aires grew up in Kenya and was educated at Duke of Gloucester School. He originally intended to study medicine in Bombay, but his plans changed following the Indian blockade of Goa, which heralded the end of Portuguese rule there. He went to Queen's University, Belfast, instead, on a scholarship, as one of only a handful of overseas students.

He held a succession of junior posts across Northern Ireland, including at the Royal Victoria, Belfast City, Ulster and Lurgan hospitals. From 1975 to 1977 he was a senior registrar at the Royal Victoria Hospital, and then spent a year at Providence Medical Center, Seattle.

In 1978 he was appointed as a consultant vascular surgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He quickly stood out for his charm, warmth and humour, thirst for knowledge and superb clinical acumen. A loyal champion for his nurses and junior staff, he fought continually to ensure the best resources for them and for his patients, and had scant patience with red tape. He expected his own high standards to be met: lazy, incompetent staff were not tolerated and rude patients found terrorising nurses were simply wheeled off the ward, not to be readmitted.

The Troubles in Northern Ireland reached their height in the 1970s and the Royal Victoria Hospital received the majority of victims. Many required treatment for horrific bomb blast, shrapnel and gunshot injuries. During this time, Aires gained an international reputation for his pioneering use of shunts in the management of complex limb vascular injuries. His surgical technique was unparalleled - his mentor, Sinclair Irwin, said Aires had the 'best hands' he had ever seen - and, aligned with his courage, stamina and coolness under pressure, he undoubtedly saved many lives and limbs. While Aires, along with colleagues, applied impeccable standards of care to all patients, he despised terrorists and had no time for extremists from either side.

In recognition of his pioneering work in vascular trauma he was appointed Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1979. Over the next decades he travelled extensively as an invited lecturer, notably in 1983, when he was elected by the James IV Association of Surgeons to represent the British Isles as the 77th James IV Surgical Traveller to North America, Australia and South East Asia.

Aires recognised clear advantages in developing vascular surgery as a distinct specialty. In 1978 he initiated the establishment of a dedicated regional vascular surgery unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital, only the third of its kind in the UK, and in 1979 instituted a clinical vascular lab. In 1996 he established a registry for vascular surgical patients in Northern Ireland, among the UK's earliest regional databases. It is still in use today.

Despite increasing national and international commitments, Aires retained a love of teaching. Students learned from his expertise, not least his exceptional care and thoughtfulness towards patients in pain and anticipating major surgery. As a lecturer, his excellent knowledge of anatomy and dynamic delivery enlivened the driest subjects. Often he would arrive early for lectures and cover the blackboards with superb anatomical drawings. He designed crests for the Ulster Surgical Club and the Joint Vascular Research Group, one of five national and European societies of which he was a founding member.

Hugely committed to vascular research, he published extensively, in particular on vascular trauma. He authored and edited three books, including Emergency vascular and endovascular surgical practice (London, Hodder Arnold, 2005). He sat on the editorial board of several vascular journals and was a reviewer on many more.

The latter years of Aires' career brought many accolades. In 1999 he was made honorary professor of vascular surgery (personal chair) at Queen's University, and in 2000, in recognition of his services to the specialty, he was awarded an OBE. The following year he was president of the Vascular Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and hosted the annual conference in Belfast. In 2003 he became Deputy Lieutenant of County Borough of Belfast, and in 2005 the Royal Victoria Hospital honoured him by naming the laboratory he had founded 'The Barros D'Sa Clinical Vascular Laboratory'.

Health problems prompted his premature retirement in 2001. His final operation was on a young man from South Africa with a large carotid body tumour. A recognised expert in this difficult field of surgery, Aires had one of the largest case series in Europe. He arranged a special weekend slot and successfully removed the tumour after eight hours of surgery.

Aires was a true gentleman, a generous friend with an infectious joie de vivre, and a legendary host. His interests spanned politics, literature and the arts; he was an orchestra patron, an environmentalist, and a keen supporter of Irish rugby. Travel remained his foremost love; he and Libby had several global excursions planned for their retirement years. Above all, he was a passionate family man and believed that his life's greatest achievement was raising his four daughters. In his final year, the arrival of a grandson brought him enormous joy.

Aires Barros D'Sa died on 29 January 2007 from bronchopneumonia a week after having cardiac surgery. He was 67. He was survived by his wife Libby, a retired anaesthetist, daughters Vivienne, Lisa, Miranda and Angelina, and grandson Tom Barnabé.

Lisa Barros D'Sa
Paul Blair

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 13 March 2007].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England