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Tributes paid to ‘immense courage’ of Cambridge transplant pioneer Professor Sir Roy Calne by Dame Esther Rantzen





Further tributes to Professor Sir Roy Calne, who died on Saturday aged 93, have been paid by colleagues and by those who worked with him - including former BBC journalist Dame Esther Rantzen.

Mike More, chair of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH), paid tribute to Sir Roy on behalf of Cambridge University Hospitals, which named a transplant unit in the city’s Addenbrooke’s Hospital after the surgeon.

Professor Sir Roy Calne, the pioneering surgeon who led the first liver transplant operation in Europe, with one of his artworks. Picture: Cambridge University Hospitals/PA
Professor Sir Roy Calne, the pioneering surgeon who led the first liver transplant operation in Europe, with one of his artworks. Picture: Cambridge University Hospitals/PA

He said: “I offer my deepest condolences to the family of Professor Sir Roy Calne.

“He was a true pioneer of transplant surgery, not only carrying out many UK, European and world firsts in surgery but also inspiring future generations of clinicians.

“Sir Roy leaves behind a truly amazing legacy and many of our staff will remember him with fondness for his vision and genuine kindness. We will all miss him very much.”

Dame Esther paid tribute to an “incredibly courageous” surgeon who performed the first liver transplant in Europe.

The BBC presenter of consumer affairs programme That’s Life!, which ran for more than 20 years until 1994, said Sir Roy encouraged the mother of a two-year-old boy who had weeks to live to get in touch with her to ask for help.

At the time, the numbers of transplant surgeries had fallen following a BBC Panorama programme that raised concerns about the field, she said.

Despite the television industry’s concerns about transplants, Sir Roy suggested the mother of Ben Hardwick, who was suffering with biliary atresia, contact her TV show, Dame Esther told the PA news agency.

Dame Esther, 83, said: “She rang That’s Life!, we got a crew together that day and (Ben’s mother) made a speech in which she said that ‘this would be the great gift of life, and it might be the only comfort for a family whose own baby had passed away’ – we put her on the air, with quotes from Roy Calne, and it absolutely took off.

Dame Esther Rantzen said Professor Sir Roy Calne was a talented artist and she has some of his ‘beautiful’ watercolour paintings at her home. Picture: PA
Dame Esther Rantzen said Professor Sir Roy Calne was a talented artist and she has some of his ‘beautiful’ watercolour paintings at her home. Picture: PA

“When (Ben’s mother) came to him and said ‘how can we change public opinion?’, and he said ‘television’, – I thought that was incredible, it was forgiving of the medium and it was also right, because at that time we were able to reach so many people and the rest of the media took it up too.”

Dame Esther said within a week a donor was found and in 1984 Addenbrooke’s carried out Britain’s first liver transplant on a young child, even though the operation was not a complete success and Ben died a year later.

“He was not only a brilliantly skilled surgeon but he had immense courage.

“I just think he was a wonderful example of a pioneering, brilliant medical practitioner in Britain working in the NHS.”

She added: “Roy performed the surgery on Ben and other children – as a result of our story people became aware of the desperate need for transplants.”

The show started their friendship, she said, adding: “I have some beautiful watercolours by (Sir Roy) in pride of place in my home.

“The thing about surgeons is they’re very, very gifted, good with their hands – he was also a very talented artist.

“He was funny, I remember having dinner with him. I think it was steak and kidney pie and he carefully dissected one of the kidneys, which made it quite difficult to eat.

“He was excellent company, but the thing that impressed me so much was the skill he had, the profession he was dedicated to.”

Writing on the Cambridge Independent’s Facebook page, Berenice Howard-Smith said: “Very sad, my late grandparents used to provide the transport for the very first transplant teams and they became friends and spoke warmly of him.”

And Diane Barnes wrote: “I was receptionist on his outpatient clinic at Addenbrooke’s in the early 70s. He was a very humble wonderful man. Deepest sympathy to all his family and friends.”

Hugh Forestier-Walker recalled 1976, saying: “My wife Jane Birdwood (theatre nurse) worked in theatre 8 with Mozart playing and Prof Calne performing miracles.”

And Tracie Lavery described him as “an amazing pioneer of transplant surgery”.



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