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Biographical entry Nelson, Henry Philbrick (1902 - 1936)

MRCS 13 May 1926; FRCS 13 June 1929; BA Cambridge 1923; MA 1927; MB BCh 1927; MD 1933; LRCP 1926.

28 August 1902
Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
24 June 1936
Thoracic surgeon


Born at Hawkes Bay, New Zealand on 28 August 1902, the second of the three sons of George Nelson, civil engineer, and Mabel Price, his wife. He was educated at Fount Row, Surrey, at Harrow from Easter 1916 to Midsummer 1918, and at Caius College, Cambridge, from Michaelmas term 1920. He graduated in 1923 after being placed in the second class of Part I of the Natural Sciences Tripos. He then entered the medical school of St Bartholomew's Hospital, and in due course was appointed house surgeon to William McAdam Eccles. He was appointed Luther Holden research scholar at the end of his year of office, and became surgical registrar at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital.

Deciding to devote himself to thoracic surgery he served as demonstrator of anatomy at St Bartholomew's Hospital and worked assiduously at the anatomy of the tracheo-bronchial lymphatic glands. He also studied the later stages of wounds of the chest at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton. As surgical scholar of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain he served for a year as instructor of surgery in the thoracic surgical unit under Dr John Alexander at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and visited Canada.

On his return to England he was appointed chief clinical assistant to J E H Roberts at St Bartholomew's Hospital, and assistant at the Brompton Hospital for Diseases of the Chest. In 1932 he was the Ernest Hart memorial scholar of the British Medical Association, and whilst holding the scholarship did valuable work on postural drainage in bronchiectasis and lung abscess. In 1933 he was elected assistant surgeon to the Brompton Hospital, and as thoracic surgeon to the London County Council was placed in charge of a special clinic at St Andrew's Hospital, Bow. In 1935 he became surgeon to the Papworth Village settlement for the tuberculous at Cambridge and to the Metropolitan Hospital in London. In April 1936 he was elected assistant surgeon to the London Hospital. He was also thoracic surgeon to the Brighton borough council and to the Middlesex county council.

In none of these positions did he ever spare himself but always worked to the uttermost of his strength, with the result that he had no resisting power and fell a victim to a virulent streptococcal infection from a slight operation wound. He died in St Bartholomew's Hospital on 24 June 1936, aged 33. He married Kathleen, daughter of Alan Sullivan of Sheerland House, Pluckley, Kent, on 22 January 1927. She survived him with two daughters. Nelson's early death was a great loss to the surgery of the chest, which he had already advanced very considerably. He was a man of original mind, a great organizer, and a brilliant operator. As an individual he was direct of purpose, enthusiastic, of transparent honesty, modest, and extremely friendly.

Bilharziasis, limited symptomatically to the urinary tract. Newcastle med J 1928, 9, 52.
Case of impending ischaemic contracture. Lancet, 1930, 2, 795.
Irradiation of tracheobronchial lymphatic glands in treatment of carcinoma of lung. Ibid 1930, 2, 1118.
Experimental Coil infection in urinary tract of rabbits. Trans Med Soc Lond 1930, 53, 266.
Accessory lobe of azygos vein, with G Simon. Brit med J 1931, 1, 9.
Tracheo-bronchial lymphatic glands. J Anat 1932, 66, 228.
Causation and prevention of chronic empyemas. St Bart's Hosp J 1932, 39, 170.
Rib retractor for major thoracotomies. Lancet, 1932, 2, 1003.
Subclavian aneurysm following fracture of clavicle. St Bart's Hosp Rep 1932, 65, 219.
Chronic empyemata. Post-grad med J 1933, 10, 462.
Pulmonary lobectomy, technique and report of ten cases, with J E H Roberts. Brit J Surg 1933, 21, 277.
Collapse therapy in bronchiectasis; a warning. Brit med J 1934, 1, 58.
Postural drainage of lungs. Ibid 1934, 2, 251.
Intrathoracic neoplasms. Post-grad med J 1935, 11, 25.
A case of delayed metastatic sarcoma of the pleura, illustrating the diagnostic value of artificial pneumothorax, with W Bromme and T Findley. Amer J Cancer, 1935, 24, 334.
John Melly; address at the memorial service St Bartholomew's-the-Less. St Bart's Hosp J 1936, 43, 161.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 25 June 1936, p 18b, and correction 26 June, p 11b; eulogy by V L Longman, The Times, 29 June, p 17f; notice of memorial fund The Times, 3 July, p llc; Lancet, 1936, 2, 45, with portrait; Brit med J 1936, 2, 49, with portrait; St Bart's Hosp J 1936, 43, 204, with portrait; Lond Hosp Gaz 1936, 39, 249, with portrait; information given by Mrs Nelson].

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