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Biographical entry Sturridge, Marvin Francis (1926 - 2017)

MB BS London 1952; MRCS LRCP 1958; FRCS 1958; MS 1965.

12 September 1926
19 January 2017
Cardiac surgeon and Thoracic surgeon


Marvin Sturridge was a consultant thoracic surgeon at the Middlesex Hospital, London. He was born on 12 September 1926 to Frank Sturridge, a doctor, and Helen Sturridge. He was the third son of what was to be a family of seven brothers and a sister, Gloria, who only lived ten days. He and all his siblings were delivered by Uncle Reg Sturridge at home. At the age of six, having had measles along with his brothers, Marvin developed an abscess which led to streptococcal septicaemia. This was in the 1930s; there were no antibiotics. The infection lodged in his joints, causing severe damage to both hips and shoulders. This resulted a lifelong disability, with which he lived and worked with stoicism. During this time, Marvin was looked after by a doctor to whom he was particularly grateful because, unlike others, he did not sit on his bed, anticipating the excruciating pain the movement would cause. This thoughtful care, which he reflected on, was part of the inspiration that set the course of Marvin's life and the gentleness which he always exhibited with his own patients.

Marvin was confined to bed for the next two years. Initially, there was doubt whether he would walk again, and he said it was thanks to his brothers who, not given to undue sympathy, told him he would never walk again. That made him the more determined to get on his feet, for which he was eternally grateful. He was given a tricycle, which helped him, very slowly, to regain strength in his legs, and eventually he was able to walk. His brothers, Arthur and Jerome, were at Ladycross Prep School in Seaford, and Marvin was eventually deemed well enough to join them there as a boarder. While there, he had a recurrence of his illness, this time in his right shoulder, and again, recovery was very slow. In 1941, he was accepted at University College School, then just down the road, where he enjoyed great success as cox in the school's rowing eight, his first sporting experience. It was from there that he gained entry to the Middlesex Hospital as a student, joining his brother Jerome. He had further recurrences of his illness until 1947, when penicillin finally eradicated the infection.

After qualifying in 1952, he did house officer jobs at the Middlesex and was surgical registrar there and at St Andrew's Hospital, Billericay. Around this time, while working for his fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons, in his own words: 'There came a young woman of striking beauty, who by virtue of playing hard to get, became my irresistible object of desire.' This was the lovely June Rowley. Their first date was to the funfair on Hampstead Heath in August 1956 and they married on 8 February 1958. Keen to pursue a surgical career, he applied for various posts in cardiothoracic and plastic surgery; he was informed by a senior surgeon that there was no future in plastic surgery so he chose the alternative. In the early 1960s, Marvin and June, with their two very young children, moved to Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, where he worked with John Kirklin for a year. This was barely six or seven years after Kirklin reported the first successful series of operations on cardiopulmonary bypass.

Returning to London from the Mayo Clinic, he was appointed first assistant in surgery on a rotation that took him to the Brompton, the London Chest and the National Heart hospitals. He was appointed as a consultant at the Middlesex and at the London Chest hospitals. In addition to adult work, he did congenital heart surgery in children, having trained with Kirklin, Brock and Holmes Sellors. When the paediatric cardiologist retired during the 1980s, he conferred with his colleagues and saw that these operations, which he loved to do and did well, should be done in dedicated centres. Another very special part of his work was thymectomy for myasthenia gravis, which he did most weeks as an honorary consultant thoracic surgeon to the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square.

Marvin was a fine example of a London teaching hospital surgeon of this era. He had a sound knowledge of applied physiology honed with Kirklin at the Mayo Clinic and Russell Brock at the Brompton. With Kirklin he studied the metabolic rate after cardiac surgery and published the study in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery in 1964 ('Basal metabolic rate after cardiovascular surgery' J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 1964 Mar;47:298-307). While at the Brompton, he did a meticulous study of the tenuous blood supply of trachea and proximal bronchi. This gained him his master of surgery degree and was evident in his clinical expertise in managing the pneumonectomy space. Persuaded somehow that an MS in the library of the University of London was sufficient, he didn't publish the work. Well after his retirement, much less informative images of the vasculature were shown at the European Society of Thoracic Surgeons and Marvin was persuaded to get out the thesis. The images were at last published after more than 40 years in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery in 2007 ('Blood supply of the trachea and proximal bronchi' Ann Thorac Surg. 2007 Aug;84[2]:675). Between these publications, he was an author on more the 50 papers, covering a range of important contributions to the science of cardiothoracic surgery. He wrote a textbook of thoracic surgery with his senior colleague, Jack Belcher, which reached a fifth edition as Belcher's thoracic surgical management in 1985 (London, Baillière Tindall).

Marvin was an outstanding teacher of clinical medicine and always had a firm of students. He was also a superb apprentice master in the operating theatre, teaching the essential craftwork of surgery to the many rotating registrars who went on to work in other specialties, as well as many specialist registrars who became consultant surgeons in the rapidly growing specialty of cardiac surgery in the 1970s to 1990s.

What was remarkable was his stamina and good humour, when only those who knew him well realised how often he had episodes of pain, particularly in his hips. In his sixties, Marvin's hips began to cause episodic severe pain but, fearing that surgery might make things worse, he procrastinated until retirement and then went to see Sarah Muirhead-Allwood, the doyenne of revision hip surgery. He gave up his beloved pipe and, although not easy one suspects for either surgeon or patient, the operations were an eventual great success and made him two inches taller. He wrote to his surgeon 'now for the first time in my life I understand why people go on walks for pleasure'. Sometimes he reflected that it was a pity he didn't go sooner, but when asked if he was bitter or resentful about his childhood illness which left him partially disabled, his face lit up and he said: 'Absolutely not, why would I? It made me the person I am today and dictated the path I took.'

Our memory of Marvin in his heyday was of a man of dapper appearance, an immaculately tailored suit with a special hanger and an inside pocket for his stethoscope, never without his bow tie, yellow socks and his pipe. He loved cars and in the early fifties he competed, with his brother Jerome, in the London Motor Club Rally to Wales in a Sunbeam Talbot 90, a rally lasting some 36 hours, finishing a very respectable 38th place out of 300 entries.

Marvin and June retired to Felpham, Sussex in 1991 to a cottage where the family had had many happy holidays. With his new hips, he was now able to walk along the seafront to the Boat House Café to meet with friends for a cappuccino. He latterly had to use a stick and later a scooter, but he was determined to get there.

In March 2014 he suffered a subdural haematoma and had surgery and months of hospitalisation. Wheelchair life bored him and, again, he was determined to walk. His nurses had to fit an alarm to his wheelchair to alert them when he decided to walk on his own. Although his faculties were failing, he looked forward to doing the cryptic crossword on Wednesdays, always with a smile, and this he did right up to the day he left us. Marvin Sturridge died on 19 January 2017, aged 90, and was survived by his wife June, his four children, Paul, Jacky, Nicola and Jonathan (always known as 'Joe'), and six grandchildren.

Tom Treasure

The Royal College of Surgeons of England