A Tale of Two Surgeons

Last week we put out a call for memorabilia and objects from women in surgery and the response so far has been encouraging. The following story from Mr Graham Fraser F.R.C.S. (Ed,Eng, C.) F.A.C.S. is a beautiful example of the personal experiences of women in surgery that we are looking to showcase.

Ward 2, REHSC 1928. RCSEd Archive, GD 200/4/7

Graham Fraser was born in Inverness and in 1932 developed pyloric stenosis at 6 weeks of age. Pyloric stenosis is a condition where the passage between the stomach and small bowel becomes narrower. This is due to the thickening of muscle which blocks the passing of food, causing severe dehydration and sickness. He was immediately sent to Edinburgh with the train being changed to an express to ensure his safe and timely arrival. He was sent to be in the care of Miss Gertrude Herzfeld, Senior Surgeon at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children.

Mr Fraser underwent an operation called a pyloromyotomy, known as the Ramsted procedure introduced by Dr Conrad Ramstedt in 1912, which cuts through the thickened muscle to widen the passage. The operation was successfully performed by Herzfeld who had gained wide acclaim for her abilities in paediatric treatment. She had learned from Harold Stiles, surgeon to the REHSC, who had conducted many operations on pyloric stenosis before and after the Ramsted procedure had come into use. Prior to 1912 mortality rate for pyloric stenosis was high but this technique has made pyloromyotomy one of the most successful paediatric operations with an excellent survival rate.

What is remarkable about this story is that Mr Graham Fraser went on to study medicine in Aberdeen and later became a Resident Assistant Surgeon at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. While attending the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons meeting in Edinburgh in the 1960s he asked who the seated elderly lady was, only to be told it was his surgeon Miss Herzfeld. He approached and confessed they had met before in 1932 as patient and surgeon to which she rose from her chair and marched Mr Fraser around the room as an exhibit!

Mr Fraser moved to Vancouver in 1967 and rose to be the Clinical Professor in Paediatric surgery. He says his own surgical experience as in infant allowed him to assure parents of children with pyloric stenosis, upon whom he operated. He would reassure the parents that their child would ‘grow up to be unusually gifted and good looking’!! This line he recalls would be met by the nursing staff groaning ‘oh, not again’!

Miss Gertrude Herzfeld became the second female fellow of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the first female practicing surgeon in Scotland in 1920. Along with other College Fellows, including Stiles, Thomas Annandale and Joseph Bell, Herzfeld was instrumental in advancing the idea paediatric surgery could be a full time occupation, and not merely an element of adult surgery. It seems poetic that a baby she successfully operated on would go on to become a paediatric surgeon. Mr Graham Fraser became a Fellow in 1962 and after a long paediatric career in Vancouver is now retired living in Vancouver. In addition his first trainee surgeon is now about to become the first female President of the Canadian Association of Paediatric Surgeons! A fitting end to a remarkable journey.

BeFunky CollageWe would like to thank him for sharing this remarkable tale of two surgeons.


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