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Biographical entry Gow, James Gordon (1917 - 2001)

MRCS and FRCS 1948; MB ChB Liverpool 1940; MD 1962; ChM 1963.

1 January 1917
28 April 2001
Urological surgeon


James Gordon Gow was a consultant surgeon to Sefton General Hospital, specialising in urological surgery. Born on 1 January 1917 in Liverpool, Jim Gow's father, John, was a businessman, and his mother, Elizabeth McLellan née Roy, was the daughter of a minister of religion. He was educated at Liverpool College and Liverpool University, where he was influenced by Sir Robert Kelly, Lord Cohen and Sir Reginald Watson-Jones. After junior posts in the Southern Hospital Liverpool, he served throughout the war in the RAMC, reaching the rank of Major. After the war he returned to Liverpool, passed the FRCS and was appointed consultant surgeon to Sefton General Hospital and consultant urologist to Wrightington Hospital.

He now took up the treatment of genito-urinary tuberculosis, becoming internationally known for his advocacy of ever more conservative treatment, which he demonstrated to be feasible, thanks to the combination chemotherapy based on streptomycin. He was one of the first to exploit the Boari technique for re-implantation of the bladder when obstruction followed otherwise successful chemotherapy. This work brought him an Hunterian Professorship in 1971.

Among his many hobbies, Jim was a keen photographer, and wished to take photographs of the growing number of bladder tumours which were referred to him. The results were disappointing. He was put in touch with Harold Hopkins, then at Imperial College. Hopkins examined the latest cystoscopes, commented that their design had hardly changed since the time of Galileo, and set about redesigning the entire optical system. Using this new cystoscope, Gow was able to make some excellent colour transparencies, which he lent to Hopkins, who showed them at a conference on medical photography in Düsseldorf. There, Karl Storz at once saw the possibilities of the new system, to which he added his cold-light flexible lighting bundle. From that meeting can be dated the whole modern generation of endoscopes. This invention transformed urology, and was soon taken up by other branches of surgery, as the laparoscopic surgery of today. In later years, with the decline in tuberculosis, Jim wrote less on that topic, though his chapters in textbooks were still the gold standard. His new interest led to an atlas of urology, illustrated with his own endoscopic photographs taken with the Hopkins system.

He was a popular, affable and active member of British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS) and the section of urology of the Royal Society of Medicine, a keen golfer, and a happy family man. His important contributions were recognised by his peers in BAUS, some thought rather tardily, by the honour of the St Peter's medal in 1999.

In 1967 he married Dorcas Jean Wallace, by whom he had twins, a boy, Gordon, and a girl, Bridget, and a younger daughter, Ingrid. Ironically, he developed a carcinoma of the bladder, which brought him considerable pain, despite radiotherapy. He died on 28 April 2001.

Sources used to compile this entry: [The Times 1 May 2001, without memoir].

The Royal College of Surgeons of England