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Biographical entry Dark, John Fairman (1921 - 2009)

FRCS 1949; BSc Manchester 1942; MB ChB 1945.

18 April 1921
London, UK
9 April 2009
Thoracic surgeon


John Fairman Dark was a thoracic surgeon in Manchester. He was born in London on 18 April 1921, the son of Leonard Dark, a sales manager, and Dorothy Rose Dark née Fairman, a London Hospital nurse. He was educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Blackburn, where he won Harrison and Kitchener scholarships, and then Manchester University Medical School. In 1944 he served for four and a half months in an Emergency Medical Service hospital at Conishead Priory. He gained his MB ChB in 1945.

Following junior hospital posts at Manchester Royal Infirmary, in 1949 he began to train in his chosen specialty of thoracic surgery at Baguley Sanatorium, also in Manchester. In 1952 he was appointed as a consultant thoracic surgeon at Baguely and at other hospitals in the region. Twenty years later, in 1972, he was appointed to the regional cardiothoracic unit at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester.

By the 1970s, pulmonary tuberculosis surgery had largely disappeared with the introduction of chemotherapy, and the major part of thoracic surgery was the treatment of bronchial carcinoma and, to a lesser extent, the treatment of oesophageal carcinoma. Dark always had a special interest in the treatment of oesophageal carcinoma, and he was very proud of the statistics that he and his team published in Thorax in 1981 for oesophageal resection for this disease ('Surgical treatment of carcinoma of the oesophagus' Thorax 1981 Dec;36[12]:891-5). Of the 449 operations they reported, there was a hospital mortality rate of only 7.6 per cent and a five year survival rate of 18 per cent above the average rate for that time.

In 1968 Dark began open-heart surgery with the hypothermia technique at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. Then, like other thoracic surgeons of that era, he became more involved in closed heart surgery - mitral valvotomy and the treatment of congenital heart disease (patent ductus arteriosus and aortic coarctation).

For six years he was an examiner for the Edinburgh cardiothoracic fellowship examination and, from 1980 to 1985, an adviser in cardiothoracic surgery to the Department of Health. He was president of the Society of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, and president of the Manchester Medical Society in 1989.

He had an extremely friendly personality and was greatly respected by his peers. He married Prudence Mary Holden in June 1949. They had four children - John Henry (a fellow of the College and professor of cardiothoracic and transplant surgery at Newcastle), Jeremy (who died infancy), Robert Fairman and Julia Mary. Dark developed a contained abdominal aortic aneurysm, which became a full rupture about 35 hours later and was not repaired because of a recent stroke. He died on 9 April 2009.

Raymond Hurt

The Royal College of Surgeons of England