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Biographical entry Mulnier, Johann Joseph Heinrich (1933 - 2015)

MB BS London 1960; FRCS 1967.

31 March 1933
31 July 2015
Orthopaedic surgeon


Johann Joseph Heinrich Mulnier, known as 'Henri', was an orthopaedic surgeon at St Ann's and North Middlesex hospitals, London. He was born on the island of Mauritius and went by boat to study medicine in England. He started his studies at University College London in 1954 and then at University College Hospital, where he qualified in 1960.

He was a registrar in orthopaedics at St Mary's Hospital, London, and then a senior registrar at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. He went on to be appointed as a consultant orthopaedic surgeon to the Haringey district in London.

His interest in spinal surgery was fostered whilst training with Philip Newman and Ernest Kirwan. This led in the mid-eighties to his developing a technique of posterior interbody fusion. This was a modification of a technique developed by the American neurosurgeon, Ralph Cloward, using morcelised bone graft instead of tricortical bone wedges impacted into a thoroughly prepared disc space - a technique he considered safer.

A review of his results during the mid-nineties found that patients who had the best outcomes were those who had leg pain combined with a degenerative intervertebral disc revealed on a preoperative MRI. This was presented at the British Orthopaedic Association annual congress in Torquay in 1993 and was abstracted in a supplement in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery; 1994, 76-B [suppl. 1]; 44). Although there was some controversy over the place of spinal surgery in low back pain, time showed that there was such a place, and that Henri's vision became a reality when such surgery was combined with careful selection and meticulous technique.

He married Josephine Payne in 1958 and they had three children - Richard, Charlotte and Henrietta. Henri and Josephine were inseparable. She was his first assistant in his private practice, his constant companion when travelling and his able partner in all family matters.

Henri was an accomplished violinist and has passed on his love of the instrument to Charlotte, who followed him into a medical career in anaesthetics. Henrietta also followed him into medicine as a specialist in diabetic care and research. His fascination with cars, DIY and engineering were bequeathed to Richard, who is an aeroengine designer.

He was passionate about the French, their language, cuisine and culture and owned a series of properties in France, ending with a beautiful farmhouse in the Lot-et-Garonne. There he immersed himself in village life, hunting and viticulture. He retired to Surrey when he left London to restore a listed cottage. There he enjoyed gardening, house improvements and socialising. His special interest during these years was opera in all its forms, and he was regularly seen within the audience at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden.

Henri Mulnier died on 31 July 2015, aged 82. He was a remarkable friend to all, particularly his colleagues, a true family man, and a distinguished surgeon who helped many patients through his long career and lived life to the full.

David Reader
John Challis

The Royal College of Surgeons of England