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Biographical entry Hooper, Reginald Smyth (1909 - 1991)

MRCS and FRCS 1940; MB BS Melbourne 1933; MS 1935; FRACS; DDR 1978; MD 1978.

8 October 1909
7 December 1991
General practitioner and Neurosurgeon


Reginald Hooper, neurosurgeon and radiologist, was born on 8 October 1909, the youngest of six children. He was educated at Scotch College, Melbourne, where he rowed and won a scholarship to Ormond College, Melbourne University. During his medical course he won the Baldwin Spencer prize in zoology, and continued to row.

He was a resident medical officer at the (Royal) Melbourne Hospital between 1933 and 1936, obtaining the MS and the primary FRCS during this period. For two years he was in general practice in Colac in the country west of Melbourne, before leaving, without his family, for the United Kingdom in 1939. After posts as orthopaedic registrar at St Olave's Hospital in South London and clinical clerk at Queen Square in 1940, he obtained the final Fellowship and was appointed neurosurgical house surgeon to Hugh Cairns at the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford.

With the war in progress, towards the end of 1940 he joined the RAMC and, as a lieutenant, was attached to No. 1 Mobile Neurosurgical Unit. This, one of a number organised by Cairns, was mobilised in February 1941 and, under the command of Major P B Ashcroft, was sent to the Western Desert where it accompanied the 8th army on its campaigns. Though there was much idleness - they worked on only nine of the twenty six days of battle - interspersed with periods of activity, Ashcroft reported that Hooper was a 'tower of strength'. Not all the work was neurosurgical, other wounds being treated if the occasion arose, for Hooper had considerable general surgical experience.

He was appointed, with the rank of major, Commanding Officer of No 2 Mobile Neurosurgical Unit, which was formed in Cairo in January 1942. After wangling an additional 3 ton truck, Hooper and the unit sailed to India, reaching Poona and finally joining Slim's 14th army in Burma. Subsequently he returned to the Mediterranean theatre, seeing service in Italy and Yugoslavia. According to Ashcroft who was directing neurosurgery there, Hooper was 'the best man in the Mediterranean theatre, an excellent brain, a skilful operator, a hard worker and full of resource'.

At the end of the war Hooper returned to Melbourne where he was appointed neurosurgeon to the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1946. He and his brother-in-law, E Graeme Robertson, a distinguished neurologist and pioneer in the development of pneumo-encephalography, established the departments of neurosurgery and neurology at that hospital. He was also appointed to the staff of the Royal Children's Hospital and the Repatriation General Hospital.

Hooper was particularly interested in head injuries. His article in the British Journal of Surgery in 1959 on extradural haematoma remains an important study. In it he analysed the results of the condition as well as its pathology and mechanisms, and drew attention to the high mortality in all reported series. He concluded that this ought to be reducible to 10% with proper education and organisation. The article has provided a standard against which present performance may be judged.

He wrote two books, one on neurosurgical nursing and the other entitled Patterns of acute head injury. The latter was an original and brilliant attempt to refine the clinical diagnosis of head injury and the early recognition of complications needing surgery by paying particular attention to the way in which the head had been injured. With the appearance of scanning techniques, this skill, regrettably, has been almost forgotten.

Hooper was a skilful and meticulous operator. His resourcefulness and originality were shown in his development of a special operating chair, or wheel, manufactured by Downs, for positioning children for cranial surgery, and in the design of his own stereotaxic machine, developed in conjunction with the engineers of the Royal Australian Air Force. He was also an accomplished artist and photographer, using these gifts to illustrate his articles, books and lectures. In a diary of his Burma experiences he included line drawings and watercolours.

Under a rule operating at the time Hooper was, to his dismay, retired from the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1966, aged 57, but he continued at the Royal Children's Hospital until he was 65. He then trained as a radiologist, being registrar at Preston and Northcote Community Hospital. He obtained the DDR in 1978 and held visiting appointments thereafter at that hospital, as well as at the Royal Children's and Mount Royal Hospitals, and continued to do some private radiological practice until quite late in his life. On the basis of his published work he was awarded an MD from Melbourne University in 1978.

For his care of partisans during the war he received an award from the Yugoslav army. He was President of the Neurosurgical Society of Australasia from 1954 to 1955, gave the inaugural Jamieson lecture of that society in 1977, was elected member of the American Association of Neurosurgical Surgeons and was Blackfan Lecturer at Harvard.

In appearance Hooper was distinguished and elegant. Quiet and something of a loner, his determination and capacity for outspokenness were evident during his period in the British army and occasioned a sermon from Cairns, suggesting that he avoid 'letting off steam to the brass hats'. In committee he had some difficulty in accepting majority decisions if he thought them wrong.

Hooper married Elwyn Masters of Castlemaine in 1936. They had a son, Robert, who became an ENT surgeon in Melbourne, and a daughter, Elizabeth. Having recovered well from a chronic subdural haematoma late in life, he eventually suffered a cerebral haemmorhage from which he died on 7 December 1991.

Sources used to compile this entry: [Med J Aust 1992 157 209, with portrait; Fraenkel, G J: Hugh Cairns, OUP, 1991; private information].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England