Tribute to Ronald W.F. Campbell, MBChB, MRCP, FRCP
For the past 20 years, any list of distinguished international cardiologists could have included Ronald W.F. Campbell, who until his death on June 13, 1998, was the British Heart Foundation Professor of Cardiology at the University of Newcastle on Tyne and president of the British Cardiac Society.
Ronnie (his preferred first name) and I had been friends and colleagues since the early 1970s when we were both fellows in the Coronary Care Unit at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. At that time, we had significant arguments. I was trying to convince Ronnie that platelets played a major role in patients to be admitted to the Coronary Care Unit. He argued that the challenge was to prevent ventricular fibrillation. As a reminder of our wonderful years in Edinburgh about 25 years earlier, we had a similar argument over a cup of tea at an NASPE meeting in New Orleans, La, about a year ago, the last time I saw Ronnie.
With his talent and genius, Ronnie’s immersion in the then relatively new field of electrophysiology earned him a Medical Research Fellowship as a visiting cardiologist during 1979 at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC. Duke was the “place to be” for Ronnie and other cardiologists interested in electrophysiology. Before settling down to a career in cardiology medicine and research, Ronnie spent 6 months as a general practitioner in northern Canada. Those who know Ronnie have undoubtedly heard recollections of his experiences, including the time when, as a flying doctor in a midwinter blizzard, he had to transport a woman in labor (with what was to be a breech delivery) in an airplane flown by an inexperienced pilot. The undercarriage was torn off by a tree as the plane took off. It should be noted that Ronnie graduated from medical school with a distinction in obstetrics/gynecology but, as he put it, “I never dreamed to be a pilot.” Ronnie returned full time to the field of cardiology when he came home to the United Kingdom to join the then-new Department of Cardiology at the University of Newcastle on Tyne.
His achievements included the establishment of advanced arrhythmia management services at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. His work and the medical team he assembled established Freeman Hospital as one of the world’s premier centers for the treatment of heart rhythm disorders. Branching out, Ronnie and his Newcastle colleagues were responsible for providing training and setting up arrhythmia management services at medical facilities throughout the world, from Kuala Lumpur to Turkey. In addition, his research presentations and publications on arrhythmia have influenced the practice of cardiology around the world. He also distinguished himself with research into the surgical treatment of heart rhythm disorders. His most recent research focused on QT dispersion.
Dr Desmond Julian, Emeritus Professor of Cardiology at the University of Newcastle on Tyne, godfather of my eldest son and Ronnie’s mentor, longtime friend, and colleague, eulogized him by saying, “Although Ronnie’s research work was distinguished, it will be for his brilliant teaching and unique sense of fun that he will probably be best remembered. He communicated his zest for life wherever he went, and the audience lit up with up with anticipation when he entered a lecture room, for they knew to expect the unexpected.”
How many of us chuckled at the prospect of hearing Ronnie deliver his Darwin Lecture titled, “Hearts Aflutter,” at the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1990? Three years later, he was speaking in the United States on the topic of “Laughing and Crying: Electrophysiology and Its Champions.” The sponsors were the American Heart Association and the Philadelphia Heart Institute. That same year, the Scottish Cardiac Society selected him to give the Michael Oliver Lecture. He titled his presentation, “Cutty Sark: The Story of Alcohol and the Cardiovascular System.”
The following comments are perhaps Julian’s greatest tribute to Ronnie: “Less well-known than his public face is that he was an outstanding and very caring physician who established an exceptional rapport with his patients. He had an inquisitive and creative mind, and he was never happier than when he could apply his intellect to solving a problem for an individual patient. It is [his patients], as much as anyone, who will mourn his passing. Indeed, Ronnie fulfilled the goals that he set for himself when he left Edinburgh by becoming a superior scientist and clinician.”
Ronnie died suddenly at the age of 51 while attending a medical conference in my home country of Spain, at a resort called Mas de Torrent. In late August, I was sitting with my family on the terrace of Mas de Torrent. It was a wonderful evening, with a full moon, a bright blue sky, and a mild breeze. I was silent, but talking to myself: “Perhaps Ronnie was right; we should have prevented his ventricular fibrillation.” But my thoughts rapidly turned back to our original friendship and vibrant arguments, over cups of tea, of course, then provided by the Sister (nurse) of the Coronary Care Unit at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Ronnie left behind his wife, Agnes; their daughter, Zanthe; his parents; a sister; numerous friends; and many patients whose lives he extended through his excellent medical care and his research. I know that the readers of Circulation will join me in saluting him.
- Copyright © 1998 by American Heart Association