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Biographical entry Tresidder, Gerald Charles (1912 - 1996)

MRCS 1937; FRCS 1946; MB BS London 1938; LRCP 1937.

5 December 1912
Rawalpindi, India
3 May 1996
Urological surgeon


Gerald Tresidder ('GCT') was born on 5 December 1912 in Rawalpindi where his father, Lt Col Alfred Geddes Tresidder, FRCS, was a surgeon in the Indian Medical Service. His was mother Lilian Annie, née Trelease. His career followed what was then the Anglo-Indian norm: 'home' at the age of eight, school at Haileybury, and then the London Hospital, where he played rugby football and tennis for the hospital. Qualifying with the conjoint in 1937 he worked first as an assistant in the clinical laboratory before becoming house surgeon to Messrs Milne and A M A Moore, going on to become junior clinical assistant to the orthopaedic department, receiving room officer, and finally junior and senior resident accoucheur, which brought with it the office of president of the residents' mess over Christmas 1938/39. After this he became an anatomy demonstrator, a task which he greatly enjoyed, finding the teaching of anatomy always very congenial. He coached his colleagues for the primary FRCS and they duly passed in 1939.

On 7 September 1940 he married Ida Livingston Marguerite Bell, and both went out to India to join the Indian Medical Service, where he was posted as a graded surgeon, serving in Rawalpindi and Calcutta. In spite of being posted to two field hospitals due to go to Burma he never got there because both hospitals were disbanded.

During his time in the IMS he tried to improve the training of its junior officers. One attempt, after much research, culminated in a withering report on the poor quality of training of field medical officers. Another involved the despatch of blood for transfusion from Calcutta to hospitals fleeing the Japanese advance into Burma in 1942. These activities finally caused some distant Delhi warrior to post him as far away as possible - to Bannu on the North West Frontier.

Fortunately it was not long before his recommendations reached more intelligent ears, and he was brought back and promoted as one of six surgical specialists to the 1300-bedded Indian Base Hospital in Kirkee, then receiving wounded from Burma and Italy, and then acting as peripheral nerve centre for the Indian army. In 1946 Gerald returned to the London as an anatomy demonstrator, while he (and his father) studied for and passed the final FRCS, son before father.

In September 1947 he was appointed a 'class III supernumerary registrar in the accident and orthopaedic department', where he was spotted by Victor Dix, who invited him to join him in setting up the new academic surgical unit. There he specialised in urology. He was appointed as a general surgeon in 1951, and was at once seconded to Ann Arbor to learn the new technique of transurethral resection of the prostate from Reed Nesbit.

On his return he encountered many difficulties in setting up transurethral resection at the London in 1952. Any diathermy machine that was powerful enough to cut under water had long since been requisitioned for counter-radar purposes; there was no supply of the large amounts of sterile fluid required for irrigation for, far from being sterile, the hospital tap water was always contaminated with pseudomonas.

This was the time when streptomycin, PAS and INAH had cut a swathe through tuberculosis, with the result that there were many pateints in whose urinary tracts the mycobacteria had all been killed, leaving large defects to be made good. French urologists in occupied Paris had shown how these defects could be repaired with isolated loops of large or small bowel. It was work for which Gerald's methodical and patient craftsmanship was specially suited. Among these patients were some who ended up with a permanent nephrostomy, for which changing the tube was always difficult and hazardous; he devised a simple and effective technique which is still named after him.

Later he collaborated with Dix in the use of radiotherapy for bladder cancer, but soon found that after beam radiation therapy the ureterocolic anastomoses almost always leaked, frequently with lethal consequences. He adapted the ileal conduit to these patients with a success which won him the respect of his urological peers. He was elected to the Council of the British Association of Urological Surgeons and was President of the Section of Urology of the Royal Society of Medicine.

He had the misfortune to diagnose in himself the rare Azzopardi type of seminoma; he subsequently underwent orchiectomy and radiotherapy, and then took early retirement from the London Hospital in 1976, devoting the rest of his life to his first love, the teaching of anatomy, first in Southampton and then in Leicester. It was in this milieu that he was most happy, and he was always sought after by medical students who enjoyed his knack of making the dead bones come alive with clinical meaning based on his wide experience of surgery.

He was an active member of the Anatomical Society, examined in the Primary for the English and Edinburgh Colleges both at home and abroad and continued to teach anatomy long after most men would have given up. Indeed, it was only after he had successfully undergone an operation for a second cancer (of the pancreas) in his old hospital that the idea of retiring ever occurred to him, by which time he was 78.

By a remarkable coincidence he was staying overnight in the Nuffield College for a routine follow-up appointment with his surgeon when he developed severe abdominal pain and asked for an ambulance: Roy Gilbert happened to be on duty, and he bundled him into his car and drove him at once to the London Hospital, where he was found to have a volvulus. The second-look laparotomy showed no evidence of recurrence.

In his last five years he remained alert and spry, always keenly interested in all things medical. He shared his love of walking, reading and discussion with his wife Marguerite, his three children and his grandchildren. He died on 3 May 1996 in Derby.

Sources used to compile this entry: [BMJ 1996 313 107, with portrait].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England