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Biographical entry Sweeney, John Gladstone (1928 - 2013)

MB BS Adelaide 1951; MCh Orth Liverpool; FRCS 1957; FRACS.

Born
26 January 1928
Died
22 July 2013
Occupation
Orthopaedic surgeon

Details

John Gladstone Sweeney was born on 26 January 1928.

His father James Sweeney was also a doctor who served with the AIF on the Western Front in the 1st World War. The family have fortunately maintained his copperplate hand written diaries of his war service and his interest in the nature and treatment of Trench Feet. Basically the provision of waterproof foot wear and "duck boards" in the trenches to avoid standing in the wet mud. James Sweeney had five children, two other sons who became anaesthetists, two daughters who became nurses, and John who became an orthopaedic surgeon.

John was educated at St Peters College and the Medical School of the University of Adelaide, qualifying MB BS in 1951. He did his Residencies and Senior House Officer posts at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. During this time he developed an interest in a surgical career, so after his marriage to Margaret in 1955, the following year, as was popular at that time, they left for the U K on the SS Strathmore to "practice on the Poms" and obtain a Surgical Fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons. He did the first part of the fellowship while working at the West Middlesex Hospital, then after two years practical experience at the Portsmouth Royal Infirmary returned to the College for the Second part. He passed both exams at the first attempt (a fairly rare achievement in those days of about a one in three pass rate).

He then returned to Australia with a plan for a General Surgical career, but his mentors (Bill Betts and Lance Bonnin) suggested Orthopaedics, then a fairly young specialty and a field in which John Sweeney was demonstrating some aptitude. The "Gold Standard" Orthopaedic qualification was then the MCh Orth (Liverpool), so in 1961 John set off again for the UK with his wife and two young children to work at Liverpool, Birmingham and Oswestry and sit for the MCh Orth which he also passed at the first attempt, then to cap it off he also passed the FRACS (Orth) on his return to Australia, again at the first attempt, an almost un repeatable trifecta of academic orthopaedic achievement.

He was appointed Honorary Clinical Assistant to the Adelaide Children's Hospital and in 1963 set up a private consulting practice in Ward Street North Adelaide with Lance Bonnin and Rod White, later joined by Sir Dennis Paterson and Dick Southwood. These consulting rooms continued (with some change of personnel) for nearly 40 years but have now been converted to town houses.

He remained at the Adelaide Children's Hospital until 1970 when he moved to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital with Rod White. In the early 1970s the Charnley hip replacement was becoming popular in South Australia, but required attendance at a course at Wrightington before one was allowed to use it, so John Sweeney again went to UK, this time accompanied by Rod White to attend the course, and while they were there were invited to a round of golf at the Royal Lytham and St Anne's course, and the Brits were apparently more impressed by John Sweeney's ability to hit his second shot on par 5 holes beyond the green than Rod White's immaculate short game.

On his return to Australia he worked at the Queen Elizabeth till 1976 when the Flinders Medical Centre opened, and he joined Dick Southwood, David Marshall, and Colin Steele Scott as the inaugural orthopaedic staff of this hospital where he worked for the next 25 years. When asked why he had moved from the city to the Southern suburbs, his reply was that working at Flinders allowed him to visit his patients on the way down and back to his farm at Nankita, near Mount Compass.

John Sweeney was not a "North Terrace farmer" as his colleagues discovered when invited there expecting to sit on the balcony sipping champagne enjoying the rural ambience, but were enlisted to dig a trench to allow him to pump water from the Finnis river to his water tanks and also help with drenching cattle and crutching sheep.

While at Flinders John developed another interest, hand surgery, and became a member of the Australian Hand Surgery Society. He also was deeply involved in teaching, both undergraduate and post graduate, and there is now the annual John Gladstone Sweeney Award at Flinders for the best undergraduate student in Orthopaedics. He ultimately retired fully in 2000, after being called back to run the Paediatric Orthopaedic clinic as there was nobody else then with the experience to do so.

On his retirement he took up lawn bowls and was progressing very well until unfortunately health issues intervened in the form of transient ischaemic attacks and coronary infarcts. He had multiple admissions to hospital but was assiduously maintained at home by his wife and family until early 2013 when he was admitted to the Gleneagles Nursing Home where he died on 22 July 2013. He is survived by his wife Margaret, children Jane, Jenny, Caroline, Susan and Tom, and ten grandchildren.

Tom Stevenson

Sources used to compile this entry: [Republished by kind permission of the President and Council of The Royal College of Surgeons from In Memoriam (http://www.surgeons.org/member-services/in-memoriam)].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England