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Biographical entry Nolan, Bernard (1926 - 2013)

MB ChB Edin 1949; FRCS Edin 1955; FRCS 1957; ChM Edin 1968.

17 August 1926
Eccles, Lancashire
18 October 2013
General surgeon, Transplant surgeon and Vascular surgeon


Bernard Nolan was a consultant surgeon at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary who took part in the first kidney transplantation in the UK. He was born on 17 August 1926 in Eccles, Lancashire, the son of Edward Nolan, an engineer, and Mary Nolan née Howarth, a teacher. His brother John would also go on to study medicine, becoming a consultant ophthalmologist, also at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Bernard Nolan was educated at St Joseph's College, Blackpool, and then went on to Edinburgh University Medical School. At university he was a member of the air squadron and the athletics club, played rugby and participated in student union activities. He graduated MB ChB in 1949.

Until October 1950 he worked as a house surgeon to (later Sir) Walter Mercer, whose operative versatility influenced his decision to pursue a career in surgery. From 1950 to 1951 he was a senior house officer in surgery at Cumberland Infirmary, Carlisle. He then carried out his National Service in the RAMC in Egypt and Libya, as a junior specialist in surgery.

Leaving the Army with the rank of captain, he returned to Edinburgh, as a demonstrator in anatomy and then as a surgical registrar at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. In 1956, at the start of the Suez Crisis, he was recalled to the Army as a surgical specialist with the rank of major. From 1957 to 1959 he was a surgical registrar on the rotational training scheme at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh.

In February 1959 he became a senior registrar on the professorial surgical unit, under (later Sir) Michael Woodruff, and in May of the same year he was appointed as a lecturer in the department, with involvement in the transplantation research programme and the Edinburgh-based Medical Research Council's group on transplantation.

On 30 October 1960 he assisted Michael Woodruff in carrying out the first ever kidney transplantation in the UK, between identical twins, and was largely responsible for the pre- and post-operative care of both donor and recipient. The recipient, who had end-stage kidney failure, did not need immune-suppressive medication and lived another ten years.

Over the next two years, Bernard Nolan greatly increased his experience of transplantation. In 1962 he was a research fellow at Harvard University Medical School, where he worked with Joseph Murray, 'the father of transplant surgery'. Also in 1962, he was appointed as a senior lecturer in surgery at Edinburgh University with honorary consultant status at the Royal Infirmary. In 1965 he transferred to the NHS as a consultant general surgeon, but, in close association with Michael Woodruff, continued to run the Edinburgh transplant service.

As an NHS consultant surgeon, Nolan became increasingly committed to vascular surgery and pressed for the establishment of a surgical unit devoted to this specialty. In 1982 this was achieved, when the Edinburgh Specialist Vascular Surgery Service was set up at the Royal Infirmary. Nolan headed the unit and, with two other dedicated vascular surgeons, provided an exceptional emergency service.

He was an examiner for both the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and of England.

Nolan retired in February 1989. In retirement he and his wife indulged their love of travel, but unfortunately this was curtailed by the effects of serious road accident Nolan suffered while walking near their home. Recovery proved long and difficult. He then developed pulmonary fibrosis, which led to increasing disability.

Bernard Nolan died on 18 October 2013 in Edinburgh. He was 87. He was survived by his widow, Margaret Winifred Nolan née Coleman, known as 'Peggy', a former dermatologist at the Royal Infirmary, Edinburgh, whom he married in September 1958, and their two sons, Geoffrey and John.

Sarah Gillam

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Scotsman 8 November 2013 - accessed 16 November 2015].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England