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Biographical entry O'Shaughnessy, Laurence Frederick (1900 - 1940)

MRCS 27 July 1922; FRCS 14 January 1926; MB BS Durham 1923; MD 1930; LRCP 1922.

24 December 1900
May 1940
Thoracic surgeon


Born at Sunderland, Co Durham on 24 December 1900, the son of Laurence O'Shaughnessy, inspector of customs and excise, and Mary Westgate, his wife, who died on 21 March 1941. He was educated at South Shields Grammar School, which he left at the age of fifteen to do war work in the coastguard huts, until he was old enough to enter the Newcastle-upon-Tyne School of Medicine. Here he held the Gibb, Philippson, Scott, and Morison scholarships, graduating in the University of Durham with second class honours in 1923. At the Royal Victoria Hospital he filled the post of assistant pathologist before he had obtained a licence to practise and was afterwards house surgeon and house physician. He then came to London on his appointment as house surgeon at the Royal Northern Hospital, Holloway.

In 1924 he entered the Sudan Medical Service as Inspector, was put in charge of the Omdurman Hospital, and worked experimentally at the Kitchener School of Medicine upon the surgery of the chest. He learnt German and, during his intervals of leave, went to Berlin to work under Ferdinand Sauerbruch. Leaving the Sudan in 1931, he again visited Berlin and spent six months with Professor Sauerbruch, whom he always spoke of afterwards as his spiritual father.

Returning to England he was the first research scholar to be appointed at the Buckston Browne Farm, Downe, Kent. The results of his work there were given as Hunterian lectures at the Royal College of Surgeons on 20 February 1933 on "Thoracic surgery, the factor of post-operative infection" (unpublished), and on 23 February 1935 "On the surgery of the lung root" which appeared in The Lancet, 1935, 1, 476. In 1937 he delivered the Carey-Coombs memorial lecture at Bristol on "The pathology and surgical treatment of cardiac ischaemia". In the same year he received a certificate of honourable mention and an honorarium for the essay he had submitted for the Jacksonian prize given by the Royal College of Surgeons. The essay was not published. The subject proposed was "The surgery of the heart"; the prize was awarded to E J S King. In May 1937 he was awarded the John Hunter medal in bronze and the RCS triennial prize of £50 for 1934-36, for his research work on the surgery of the thorax.

O'Shaughnessy joined the RAMC branch of the Territorial force soon after his return from the Sudan. He was called up for service in September 1939, and as a captain was attached first to the 13th General Hospital and afterwards to a casualty clearing station, where he hoped to use his knowledge of the treatment of thoracic injuries and surgical shock to the best advantage. He was blown to pieces in May 1940, whilst watching an air raid in Flanders. He married Gwendolen Mary Hunton, MB, BS Durham, on 3 October 1926; she survived him with a son. They had lived at 24 Croom's Hill, Greenwich.

The early death of Laurence O'Shaughnessy was a serious loss to the special branch of surgery to which he was devoting his life and had done so much to advance. An untiring worker and a man of ideas, he had been able to combine the scientific with the clinical aspect of the surgery of the heart and the upper respiratory tract, whilst his paper on the "Aetiology of surgical shock" is already looked upon as a classic. At his instigation the London County Council established the Lambeth cardio-vascular clinic and appointed him the surgeon, Harry Edward Mansell, FRCP 1937, being his physician colleague; Dr Mansell died 1 June 1941. At the time of his death O'Shaughnessy was thoracic surgeon to the British Legion Sanatorium, Preston Hall, near Maidstone, Kent, to the Nottinghamshire County Council, to the Grosvenor Sanatorium, and to the Birmingham municipal tuberculosis scheme. Some of his early experiments were carried out on racing greyhounds with strained hearts. He grafted portions of omentum and found that their pace improved afterwards. These results he was beginning to apply successfully to the human heart. O'Shaughnessy was dark, of medium build and brisk movement, with a self-confident manner and somewhat harsh voice. Friendly and affable by nature, though intolerant of convention and inefficiency, he was always ready to expound his latest ideas and projects.

Thoracic surgery, with Ferdinand Sauerbruch of Berlin. London, 1937. This book is much more than an abridged translation of Sauerbruch's monumental treatise. It helped to popularize an important and too little known branch of surgery.
Pulmonary tuberculosis, with G G Kayne and Walter Pagel. Oxford, 1939.
Double intestinal obstruction. Lancet, 1926, 2, 1163.
Aetiology of peptic ulcer. Ibid 1931, 1, 177-181.
Cutaneous horn on amputation stump, with F E Mayne. Brit med J 1931, 1, 624. Tumour of carotid body. Brit J Surg 1931, 19, 153.
Phrenicectomy in treatment of pulmonary disease, with analysis of 58 cases. Lancet, 1932, 2, 767-770.
Neurectomy and the sympathetic nervous system. Newcastle med J 1933, 13, 23-34.
Social importance of collapse therapy. Tubercle, 1933, 14, 289-295.
Discussion on some aspects of anaesthesia in animals. Proc Roy Soc Med 1933, 26, 533-38.
Surgical exposure of the oesophagus, with R W Raven. Brit J Surg 1934, 22, 589-618.
Surgery of the lung root, Hunterian lecture, RCS. Lancet, 1935, 1, 476-480. Aetiology of traumatic shock, with D Slome. Brit J Surg 1934-35, 22, 589-618. Experimental method of providing collateral circulation to the heart. Brit J Surg 1936, 23, 665-670.
Vagus and its relation to surgery of the lung. J thoracic Surg 1936, 5, 386-392. Temporary paralysis of diaphragm in treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, with J H Crawford. Lancet, 1936, 1, 534.
Cardiospasm: aetiology and treatment. Postgrad med J 1936, 12, 468.
Surgical treatment of cardiac ischaemia. Lancet, 1937, 1, 185-194.
Surgery of oesophagus and diaphragm. Maingot's Post-graduate surgery, 1937, 3, 5037-5118.
Pathology and surgical treatment of cardiac ischaemia, Carey Coombs memorial lecture, Bristol med-chic Soc, 5 May 1937. Bristol med chir J 1937, 54, 109-126.
Surgery of the heart. Practitioner, 1938, 140, 603-618.
Surgical treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis, with J H Crawford. Postgrad med J 1938, 14, 38-48.
Thoracolysis: conservative and selective operation for treatment of certain cases of pulmonary tuberculosis, with G Mason. Brit med J 1939, 1, 97-100.
Surgical revascularisation of the heart: experimental basis, with D Slome and F Watson. Lancet, 1939, 1, 617-621.
La greffe de revascularisation du coeur: cardio-omentopexie. Bull et Mém Soc Méd Paris, 1939, 143, 49-59.
Surgery of the heart. Newcastle med J 1939, 19, 61-73.
The future of cardiac surgery. Lancet, 1939, 2, 969-971.
Haemoglobin solution as blood substitute, with H E Mansell and D Slome. Lancet, 1939, 2, 1068.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times, 8 June 1940, p 4e; Lancet, 1940, 1, 1100, with portrait; Brit med J 1940, 1, 998, with portrait, a good likeness; information given by his wife Dr Gwen O'Shaughnessy; personal knowledge].

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