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Biographical entry Heath, Charles Joseph (1856 - 1934)

MRCS 31 July 1884; FRCS 10 June 1886; LSA 1884.

25 December 1856
Totnes, Devon
13 July 1934
ENT surgeon


Born at Totnes, South Devon on 25 December 1856, the second son of John Heath and his wife Rachel Pulling. His father was the proprietor of the "Seven Stars" hotel, an old-established house, situated at the bottom of the town near the Dart. He is described as being a well-known character in Totnes, especially interested in horses and politics. The elder son was William Lenton Heath, FRCS. Charles Heath was educated at the King Edward VI Grammar School, Totnes. He was destined to enter the veterinary profession, but after attending a short course at the Royal Veterinary College in Camden Town it was decided that he should become a doctor. He entered St Bartholomew's Hospital in October 1880 and in the following year gained the Treasurer's prize for the best dissection and knowledge of descriptive anatomy. Having gained these prizes he was selected to act as prosector at the Royal College of Surgeons, where it was his duty to provide the recent dissections on which candidates for the Membership and Fellowship were examined. He served a term of office, as soon as he was qualified, as house surgeon at Preston Royal Infirmary, and entered general practice in 1887 for a second time at Montpelier Row, Blackheath.

He soon determined to devote himself to the practice of aural surgery and was attached successively to the Central Throat, Nose, and Hospital and to the Throat Hospital in Golden Square, where at the time of his death he was vice-president. Aural surgery attracted him more than laryngology, and he was for some years the consulting aural surgeon to the Down Hospital for Children then under the control of the Metropolitan Asylums Board. As an aural surgeon he correlated the best points of many operations upon the mastoid, tested them by experiment, and produced a method which his friends always spoke of as "Heath's operation". He was somewhat vain of the method and talked of it in season and out of season. He also designed or modified a large number of instruments for use in aural surgery. As an inventor in other fields he designed and improved a gas helmet, which was largely used during the first world war, he defined the principles essential in the design of army boots for the Army Hygienic Advisory Committee, and he introduced a chamberless wild-fowling gun. A keen sportsman, he spent his holidays in salmon fishing in Galway and in wildfowl shooting in Essex. At the time of his death he had been president of the Wildfowlers Association since 1929, and he had served on the Home Office Wild Fowls Committee. He was, too, a companion of the Marine Engineers Institute. He married Agnes Frideswide (d 1930), daughter of Colonel J J Wilson. Heath died on 13 July 1934, and was buried at the Greenwich Cemetery, Shooter's Hill.

To Heath is due the honour of having shown that mastoid disease may be cured without destruction of the hearing apparatus. His invention would have been better received, if he had not suffered from an inferiority complex, which showed itself in egotistic magnification of his work. One of his friends wrote of him "Charles was a remarkable man, but Charles Heath had to be recognized in all his work and in the instruments he used. I have shot with him for many years past, but Charles Heath had to have a gun made after his own pattern, which was in many ways different from the ordinary, and he shot well with it, which he would also have done with an ordinary gun. I have seen him operate many times and he showed considerable skill, but it was his operation and his were the special instruments he used. Charles was a clever man at his own work and a clever mechanic who, but for these amiable and easily forgivable weaknesses, would have been one of the foremost aural surgeons in London". When he went to the first International Congress of Oto-rhino-laryngology at Copenhagen in 1928 he took with him a manuscript setting out his ideas, but he was so obsessed by the fear that the paper might lack an appreciative audience that he came straight back to London without having spoken. On the other hand he received a remarkable ovation at the Otological Congress which met at Boston, Massachusetts, in 1912.

Cure of chronic suppuration of the ear, without removal of drum or ossicles, or loss of hearing. Lancet, 1906, 2, 353, and 1907, 1, 1146.
The nature and causes of catarrhal throat or hereditary deafness, an explanation of paracusis Willisii, with a new method of treatment. London, 1912.
Paracusis Willisii. Trans Kent Med-chir Soc. 1910, 54, 50-72.
Prevention of deafness and mortality, which result from aural suppuration. Int otol Congr 9, Boston 1912, p 413, and Midl med J 1916, 15, 33.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 14 July 1934, p 14f; Brit med J 1934, 2, 186 and p 235, eulogy by H Norman Barnett of Bath; Lancet, 1934, 2, 168; St Bart's Hosp J 1934, 42, 3; information given by his niece, Miss G Lenton Heath, by John Adams, FRCS, by W J Cusack, and by Carl Schelling, LDS, RCS; personal knowledge].

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