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Biographical entry Helman, Percy (1924 - 1982)

MRCS and FRCS 1952; MB ChB Cape Town 1946; FACS 1979.

1 January 1924
23 March 1982
General surgeon


Percy Helman was born on New Year's Day, 1924. He was educated at Laingsburg Junior and High School and at the University of Cape Town, where he graduated MB ChB in 1946. He served his internship in medicine and surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital and started his surgical training in Cape Town. He then moved to London where he took his FRCS in 1952 and afterwards worked at the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith. He returned to Cape Town in 1956 and set up in private practice as a surgeon. He was soon appointed as a consultant to Groote Schuur Hospital and to the Cape Town Free Dispensary. In 1977 he joined the full-time staff of the University Department of Surgery at Groote Schuur and in 1981 was promoted head of surgical firm on the professorial unit at Somerset Hospital.

Helman's interest in surgical oncology was stimulated at the Royal Marsden and on his return to South Africa he rapidly made his name in that field. His special interest was in cancer of the breast and of the head and neck and he was active in clinics dealing with both of these conditions. He was involved in many valuable projects, trials and analyses, and his work gained international reputation. He was made a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons in 1979.

He was a member of several international societies, including the Association of Head and Neck Oncologists of Great Britain, the British Association of Surgical Oncology and the Society for the International Treatment of Tumours, based in Italy. He founded the National Study Group into Breast Cancer in 1977, under the auspices of the National Cancer Association of South Africa and remained secretary of it until near the end. The fact that all major breast centres in the country agreed to participate actively was regarded as a miracle and must have given him great satisfaction during his last days.

In 1947 he married Ethel Rosenzweig and they had three children, one of whom is a medical graduate of the University of Cape Town. He will be remembered not only for his professional attainments, but for his concern for all his patients including the 'under privileged'. In 1980 he diagnosed his own carcinoma and underwent a series of operations and courses of cytotoxic and radiation treatment, but continued to live a full professional and social life to the end. He also kept a record of his physical and emotional responses to his condition, in the hope that his experiences might help other doctors and patients in coping with similar problems. His wife has incorporated many of the points he made in a moving biography entitled An autumn life. He died on March 23, 1982, aged 58.

Sources used to compile this entry: [S Afr med J 1982, 61, 765].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England