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Biographical entry Shenstone, Norman Strahan (1881 - 1970)

MRCS 1909; Hon FRCS 1943; BA Toronto 1901; MD Columbia 1905; FACS 1913; FRCS(C) by election 1943; LRCP 1909.

18 April 1881
Brantford, Ontario, Canada
5 March 1970
General surgeon and Thoracic surgeon


Norman Shenstone was born at Brantford, Ontario, on 18 April 1881, the second son and second child of Joseph Newton Shenstone, a manufacturer of farm machinery, and Eliza Hara, his wife. His primary education was in local schools of Brantford and Toronto, to which his family moved during his early boyhood. He received the degree of BA from the University of Toronto in 1901 following a general course in the humanities. He then entered the Medical School of Columbia University in New York and graduated with the degree of MD in 1905. He spent a further two years in New York City in postgraduate training at the New York Hospital and St Mary's Hospital for Children and then travelled abroad for further surgical study. He took the Conjoint Examination in London in 1909. He returned to Toronto in that same year to commence his surgical practice and was appointed demonstrator in anatomy and demonstrator in the department of surgery of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Toronto. The Professor and head of the department of surgery was Irving H Cameron, FRCS. His clinical appointment was to the staff of the Toronto General Hospital.

After the outbreak of war he enlisted in the Canadian Army Medical Corps and was sent overseas in February, 1916, with the rank of Captain to join the staff of 16 Canadian General Hospital at Orpington. He was invalided home a year later but continued to serve on the staff of the Davisville Military Hospital in Toronto until the end of the war. He then rejoined the staff of the Toronto General Hospital and by 1920 was promoted to Assistant Professor and Head of a Surgical Service, a position he retained until 1946. During this time he served under two distinguished Professors of Surgery, Clarence Starr and W E Gallie. He showed great concern for the welfare of the disabled veterans of the armed forces and from 1919 until 1946 was a consultant surgeon to the hospital for veterans in Toronto. He was also a strong supporter of a small hospital operated by the Sisters of St John and was of great assistance to them in the planning and organization of the modern convalescent hospital which they established in Newtonbrook on the outskirts of Toronto when they decided to give up their general hospital in the city.

The many veterans suffering from chronic empyema who came under his care stimulated his interest in thoracic surgery, of which he became a pioneer in Canada. In association with his colleague, Robert Janes, he developed the lung tourniquet in 1929. This simple instrument was the key to a technique which for the first time permitted excising of lobes or even whole lungs with relative safety for the patient. Although it was soon superseded by the more precise technique of hilar dissection, the tourniquet had given great impetus to the development of pulmonary resection. Shenstone also developed a technique for closure of bronchial fistulae by the use of a pedicle graft of intercostal muscle. However, he remained a general surgeon to the end of his career. His surgical technique was characterized by a direct and dexterous approach, devoid of flourishes. One of his outstanding qualities was the wisdom of his judgement both at the bedside and in the operating room. As a teacher he was at his best in the selection and guidance of young surgeons in training; many of the senior surgeons across Canada came under his instruction during the twenty-six years that he was head of a surgical division at the Toronto General Hospital. He was a kindly and generous man but intolerant of two things: any departure from strict honesty, or careless use of the English language.

Although Shenstone wrote little he was much appreciated internationally for his pioneer contributions, particularly to thoracic surgery. In 1943 Sir Heneage Ogilvie on a war time trip to Canada conferred on him the Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and in 1949 he delivered the Tudor Edwards Lecture on The treatment of bronchiectasis. In 1941 he was elected an Honorary Member of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. When the American College of Surgeons was organized in 1913 he became a Charter Fellow and at the time of his death was one of only three surviving.

He was a good tennis player and a fair golfer but his first love was the out of doors, the beauty of the Canadian woods and streams, and the quiet glide of a canoe over sparkling water, even a tough carry over a portage. He was a knowledgeable field naturalist and bird watcher. His death on 5 March 1970, followed a long and distressing illness which he bore with great fortitude.

He married Amey Chase in 1911 and they had three children, of which the eldest, a daughter, died suddenly in early adult life. He is survived by his widow, by a daughter Barbara Fleury and a son, Strahan. His brother Allen, who survives him, had a long and distinguished career at Princeton University as a physicist.

Experiences in pulmonary lobectomy, with R M Janes. Canad med Ass J 1932, 27, 138.
Use of intercostal muscle in repair of bronchial fistulae. Ann Surg 1936, 104, 560. Experiences with total pneumonectomy. J Thorac Surg 1942, 11, 405.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Canad med Ass J, 1970, 102, 1112].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England