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Biographical entry Vitali, Miroslav (1914 - 1992)

OBE 1986; FRCS by election 1967; MB ChB Warsaw 1939; MD Poznan 1973.

5 October 1914
Human, Ukraine
19 February 1992
Orthopaedic surgeon and Prosthetic consultant


Miroslav Vitali was born in Human, a town in the Ukraine, on 5 October 1914, the son of a bank manager. As a child he was taken to Moscow where during the Revolution his father was briefly imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. The family then moved to Warsaw, where he continued his education at the Mikolaj Rej Gymnasium. He joined the Military Medical Academy in 1932, which enabled him to study at the Medical School of Warsaw University. There he qualified in 1939 and was immediately commissioned into the Army Medical Corps. He was taken prisoner by the German army in September but soon escaped, in time for his planned marriage to Maria Kaminska, a young dental surgeon. During the occupation he worked in orthopaedics at the Warsaw Red Cross Hospital but was also active in the resistance. During the uprising in August 1944 he did heroic work providing emergency surgery for the wounded, his wife giving the anaesthetics. Their bravery on this occasion would much later be recognized by the Chivalry Cross. The Germans again took them prisoner when the uprising collapsed but they were soon liberated by the advancing Russian army and were able to make their way to join the 2nd Polish Corps then with the British 8th army in Italy.

After the war they decided not to return to Poland. Vitali worked first with Polish convalescents but after junior NHS posts was appointed registrar to Leon Gillis, the orthopaedic surgeon at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton. He transferred to the Artificial Limb and Appliance Centre in 1955 and began the work which was to make him famous. He was made Principal Medical Officer in 1967 and in that year was awarded the FRCS by election. For the next ten years he was responsible for prosthetic research; he introduced many technical improvements in the prostheses but was equally concerned both with the operation of amputation and with the psychological welfare of the amputees. He became well known as a lecturer and as a powerful advocate for the disabled. His first book Prosthetic management of elderly lower limb amputees appeared in 1964; in 1967 a further work advocated immediate postoperative fitting while his definitive Amputations and prostheses (1978) has become a classic.

Following retirement in 1979 he remained honorary consultant to Roehampton and to the Westminster Hospital as well as adviser to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. He had been adviser and close friend to Sir Douglas Bader, the legless air ace, after whose death a Foundation was established in his memory to provide rehabilitation for the disabled. Vitali was naturally appointed honorary adviser and ensured that the new Foundation would site its centre in the grounds of Queen Mary's Hospital. His many services to the disabled were recognized by the award of the OBE in 1986 as well as by the Polish Order of Merit. He died on 19 February 1992 and his wife, who had been such an enormous support to him throughout his career, died on 20 April of the same year.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 5 March 1992; BMJ 1992 304 1628; Ann R Coll Surg Engl 1992 74 371, all with portraits].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England