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Biographical entry Jones, Howell Pritchard (1918 - 2013)

MRCS LRCP 1941; MB BS London 1942; FRCS 1949; DPhysMed 1969.

2 September 1918
Cerrig-y-drudion, Wales
2 January 2013
General surgeon and Rehabilitative physician


Howell Pritchard Jones was a consultant general surgeon at Birkenhead who retrained as a physician in rehabilitative medicine following a stroke. He was born in Cerrig-y-drudion, north Wales, on 2 September 1918, the son of William Thomas Jones and Jane Jones née Hughes. The family moved to Rhewl, near Ruthin, when he was a baby, and it was there that he spent his formative years, attending the village school and subsequently gaining a scholarship to the grammar school at Denbigh. He broke with the family's farming tradition to pursue a career in medicine, spending a year at Aberystwyth University before moving to Guy's Hospital in London. It was while working in the operating theatres in the bowels of Guy's during the Blitz that Howell met Olive Thomas, a young theatre nurse who hailed from the next village back in Wales. They married in 1943.

Following the war Howell was posted to Naples and latterly Africa with the RAMC. In Suez he had his appendix removed and was sent home for convalescence for two weeks: it took 10 days to get home and 10 days to return.

Following his demobilisation, with the rank of a major, he returned to the UK and Guy's Hospital. In 1950 he was appointed as a registrar at Chester Royal Infirmary and, in 1959, became a consultant general surgeon at Birkenhead. It seemed a long surgical career stretched out in front of him, and he and his family settled into a routine, however, after five years in post, while Howell was performing a nephrectomy, a berry aneurysm ruptured at the base of his brain and his life, and that of his family, changed forever.

The massive stroke was life-threatening and Howell underwent pioneering surgery at the Walton neurosurgical unit to remove the clot. He awoke from a coma many weeks later and made a remarkable recovery, but never regained the use of his left side. He was sent to the renowned Headley Court for rehabilitation before he returned to Merseyside to retrain as a rheumatologist. The NHS was very supportive up to this time, but when he had retrained and qualified there were no funds available to create a post. Many would have given up at this point, but not Howell. Eventually he ran the Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre (ALAC) for Wales, necessitating a move to Cardiff - using 'doctor', rather than 'Mr', for the first time. He was meant to retire at 65, but at the time the ALAC was being integrated into the NHS, and he was asked to oversee this process and stayed on until he was 67.

He remained active in his retirement in Wrexham, as a freemason and as a member and former president (at the age of 75) of the Welsh Language Medical Society (Y Gymdeithas Feddygol). At the time of his death he was working on a translation into Welsh of an article about Sir Ludwig Guttmann, who founded the paralympics at Stoke Mandeville. This endeavour is a typical reflection of what motivated Howell: he was expressing his admiration for a colleague who helped people face disability, and he was moved to share his work for the benefit of his welsh-speaking colleagues.

Howell was a passionate doctor, who was respected by his patients and colleagues alike, and furthermore by those kind professionals who cared for him in his later life. He was determined in all he did, whether learning to walk again, in carrying out his profession, or in executing his duties as a senior member of the freemasons.

Howell's successful rehabilitation and return to medicine was only possible thanks to the support of his family, most importantly his wife Olive. He faced his challenges with dignity and good humour. He always delighted in the success of those around him. He died on 2 January 2013 at the age of 94, and was survived by his two children, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren. His wife predeceased him in 2008.

Rowan Pritchard Jones

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 2013 346 3333].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England