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Biographical entry Talalla, Andrew (1924 - 2000)

MRCS 1953; FRCS 1962; MD Southern California 1970; LRCP 1953.

29 November 1924
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
27 May 2000


Andrew Talalla, a neurosurgeon, was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 29 November 1924. His father, Hewage Benjamin Talalla, was an industrialist who married Lily Olga Fernando. There were two older brothers, both of whom served in the RAF in the second world war, the elder being killed flying a Typhoon in the Normandy campaign. Two younger brothers were respectively a diplomat and a high court judge. Andrew Talalla remained in Malaysia when it was occupied by the Japanese. When some Japanese ships were sunk, the family were accused of espionage and imprisoned. Talalla himself, who was 16 at the time, was kept in solitary confinement for 18 months. When the war was over, he went to England to complete his education. On leaving school, he went to Queen Mary College, London University. He entered the medical school at the London Hospital, Whitechapel, from which he graduated with the conjoint qualification. He did not take the MB BS, an omission which caused him considerable trouble later.

His pre-registration house appointments included general medicine, general surgery and neurosurgery. In the latter he took a precocious and keen interest under the influence of D W C Northfield and J V Crawford, the two consultants in the neurosurgical department at the London Hospital. He determined on a career in the specialty, undertook the FRCS examination, which he obtained in 1962, and shortly afterwards was appointed registrar and senior registrar at Atkinson Morley's Hospital, Wimbledon. At the time, under the direction of Sir Wylie McKissock, this was the most distinguished department in England and knowledge of the natural history and treatment of subarachnoid and intracerebral haemorrhage in particular was greatly increased by systematic studies carried out there. McKissock was a hard taskmaster, but those who succeeded with him were in a very strong position in applying for consultant posts.

Talalla did not relish any of the appointments available at the time and decided to go to the United States. He was appointed, in 1967, as associate professor of surgery (neurological surgery) at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, but to his dismay, on taking up the employment, found that his basic qualification was not acceptable, as it had not been awarded by a university. All efforts to get around this problem failed, and he had to take the MD in Los Angeles. He remained in Los Angeles until 1972, during which time he became interested in microsurgery, which was well developed in that department. He formed an association with Robert Pudenz of the Huntingdon Institute of Applied Medical Research, who had done much original work on the mechanism of head injuries and devised one of the earliest and most successful ventricular shunts for the treatment of hydrocephalus. With Pudenz he wrote on the local effects of electrical stimulation of the brain. He was a keen teacher of undergraduates and was largely responsible, while in Los Angeles, for formulating an integrated clinical course in neurosurgery, which won an award.

In 1972, he left to take up an appointment as associate professor in the department of surgery at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, where he remained until his retirement, becoming Professor in 1982. He brought with him to McMaster the use of the operating microscope and, after spending sometime with Irving Cooper in 1980, introduced cryogenic stereotaxic surgery. The MD programme at McMaster was an innovative one and Talalla continued his interest in student teaching while there. At the time of his death he was compiling a teaching manual for students and residents. His scientific work at McMaster was concerned with the control of bladder function by electrical stimulation of the sacral nerves, about which he wrote extensively, the effects of pinealectomy, the use of intrathecal Baclofen in the control of spasticity, and vagal stimulation of epilepsy. During his time at McMaster, he was visiting professor in New York Medical College, Westchester, New York, and spent six months working in his old hospital, the Royal London. After retirement, he continued to practise neurosurgery as a locum in the Northern Ontario Underserved Area.

Andrew Talalla married Mary Fisher, a nursing sister from the London, and there were two sons, Dominic and Piers, and a daughter, Andrea. He was a person of considerable personal charm and elegance of appearance and manner. A keen sailor, he owned a yacht on which he sailed from the Great Lakes down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico in 1997. His health in later life was affected by diabetes and vascular disease, and he died of a stroke following recurrent cardiac surgery on 27 May 2000.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England