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Biographical entry Heanley, Charles Laurence (1907 - 2008)

MRCS 1932; FRCS 1933; MB BCh Cambridge 1937; LRCP 1932; MRCP 1935.

28 February 1907
Hong Kong
9 February 2008
Plastic surgeon


Charles Heanley was head of the department of plastic surgery at the London Hospital. He was born in Hong Kong on 28 February 1907, the son of Charles Montgomery Heanley, a doctor, and Mary Morella Heanley née Tassell. He was educated at Epsom College and then at Downing College, Cambridge, where he was an exhibition scholar. He trained at the London Hospital Medical School.

He spent a year as a reader in anatomy at William Wright's request and then worked as an assistant to the plastic surgeon Tommy Kilner at Shadwell Children's Hospital and at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital in Roehampton. He also visited Dollis Hill Hospital and Lord Mayor Treloar's Hospital, Alton. He remembered Kilner doing bone grafts to the jaw when he had formed a new buccal sulcus with skin graft inserted over a mould and also a similar technique for reconstructing eye sockets. Ivan Magill was the anaesthetist; he had made the first endotracheal tubes from soft rubber tubing which was wrapped around a cake tin and left on the balcony of his London flat. After a month of exposure to the sulphurous London atmosphere the rubber was vulcanised and gave it just the right consistency. It was cut in lengths one end oblique and the other transverse. The ends were then burnt and rubbed smooth.

He was then appointed as a surgical chief assistant and a registrar at the London. Charles was in the Territorial Army, so at the outbreak of the Second World War he was posted to the 17th London General Hospital and sent to France, to a 1,200 bedded hospital at Dan Camiers. After three weeks the hospital moved to Hatfield House, but before long he was transferred to Sir Harold Gillies Hospital, Rooksdown House, Park Prewitt, to learn plastic surgery. He spent from 1941 to 1942 there. He was then posted to Raniket, 6,000 feet up in the Himalayas, as commanding officer of number three British Maxillofacial Surgery Unit with the rank of lieutenant colonel. 'We worked in the theatre from 9 until 6pm, three days a week, recovering on alternate days and hoping our patients would do the same.' He was then posted with his team to Ranchi and then to Camilla. He remembered his first use of penicillin in the case of facial injury and meningitis, and the benefit of hypochlorite solution in burns sepsis. He was at Chittagong when the Japanese capitulated and he was able to return to the UK in December 1945.

After the war he returned to the London Hospital, where he was surgeon in charge of the department of plastic surgery. He also had appointments as a consultant surgeon at Worthing Hospital, Bethnal Green Hospital, and the plastic surgery unit at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead. He had an honorary consultant plastic surgeon appointment at the Royal National and Golden Square hospitals.

In 1946 when the British Association of Plastic Surgeons was formed he was a founder member.

In a letter to John Blandy he recounted how he was operating on a case for Victor Dix, reconstructing the perineum after the removal of a malignant ulcer and the symphysis pubis had gone. He was able to cover the defect and obtained healing with a local flap. Gerald Tressider, who he had met in India, was observing and commented 'what a magnificent approach for the prostate gland'. Charles noted that he had expected collapse of pelvis following the removal of the symphysis pubis and he had prepared for a bone graft later, but that this was not necessary.

In correspondence to the British Medical Journal in 1970, he made the interesting observation that injection of vital blue dye into any part of the breast showed lymphatic drainage to both retro sternal glands and axilla. Also, that vital dye injected into the hand tracked randomly through the axilla and it was not possible to avoid lymphoedema of the arm by conserving particular lymphatics. He had an interest in lymphoedema and commented that in India one in five of the general population appeared to have gross swelling of one or both legs. He published articles in medical journals on a variety of topics, but a particular contribution was the use of the subcutaneous pedicle in flap reconstructions.

He retired aged 58 to enjoy his recreations of swimming and archaeology. He married Mary Emily née Shellum in 1935. They had three sons, two of whom became doctors. He died on 9 February 2008.

Brian Morgan

Sources used to compile this entry: [The London Hospital Gazette No 22, 1997].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England