Born: July 2, 1936; Died: June 1, 2012.
Professor George Russell, who has died aged 75, was a paediatrician, researcher and educator who was able to see the direction in which medical services for children was travelling and took a lead role in shaping the future of paediatric practice in the UK.
He was a founding member of several professional and clinical groups that set the standards of paediatric practice in Britain and abroad, including the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, Paediatric Intensive Care Society, British Paediatric Respiratory Society, European Paediatric Respiratory Society, Scottish Children's Asthma Group and the Scottish Cystic Fibrosis group.
Professor Russell qualified in medicine in 1959 and pursued postgraduate training in paediatrics. He trained under famous names including Professor Ross Mitchell in Aberdeen and Professor Henry Kempe in Colorado, US, before returning to Scotland to take up a lecturing post at Aberdeen University and a consultant post in paediatrics at Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital.
In addition to his busy clinical responsibilities in general paediatrics, he pioneered developments in neonatal intensive care and introduced innovations in the ventilation techniques for premature babies. He also started a process that saw the progressive developments in treatment and survival of small premature babies.
Professor Russell realised the importance of optimum nutrition to the survival of premature and sick newborn babies and showed an improved survival rate with lower morbidity after introducing high energy feeds. He also recognised the adverse effects of hypoglycaemia on newborn babies and carried out an important research project in order to define the relationship between maternal gestational diabetes, hypoglycaemia and neonatal morbidity.
Professor Russell developed specialist services for children in north-east of Scotland whenever and wherever he spotted a clinical need. In the 1970s, paediatric neurology services were limited to a handful of centres in the UK, but he did not shy away from the challenge of providing a specialist clinic for children with epilepsy.
By doing so, he not only developed his own skills in paediatric neurology but also those of his colleagues and trainees, and soon realised the intricate relationship between paediatric neurology and metabolic disorders.
He seized the opportunity to assemble a multidisciplinary team of a biochemist and a specialist dietician to join him in a comprehensive service for children with metabolic diseases that coincided with the introduction of the national newborn screening for phenylketonuria, a rare condition in which a baby is born without the ability to properly break down an amino acid called phenylalanine.
He also developed his interest in childhood headaches into a clinical service and a research programme and he ran, probably, the first paediatric headache clinic in the UK that became a base for his future research on the epidemiology of migraine and the periodic syndrome.
His research persuaded the International Headache Society to include abdominal migraine and cyclical vomiting as variants of childhood migraine in the International Classification of Headache Disorders in 2004.
As if paediatric neurology was not a big enough challenge for Professor Russell, he also paid attention to the growing problem of asthma and emerging new treatments. He carried out groundbreaking research showing the real increase in the prevalence of asthma over 30 years in the childhood population of Aberdeen and other parts of Scotland including the rural regions of the Scottish Highlands. This dispelled the myth that the increased prevalence of asthma is largely due to urban lifestyle and pollution (although this may have played some part).
He translated his research interest in respiratory medicine into clinical practice. He realised the need for a paediatric respiratory laboratory in Aberdeen and raised funds to see the project through and take the art of clinical skills in diagnosis of diseases into the scientific arena.
He established a reliable service for children with cystic fibrosis (CF) helping children and their families to access all medical treatment, reviews and nutritional advice from a multi-disciplinary clinic.
He took his successful experience in managing children with CF in Aberdeen to found and chair the Scottish CF group.
His influence on the understanding and treatment of asthma is felt in Scotland, UK and beyond. In 2009 the British Paediatric Respiratory Society awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award.
During his entire career, he was the focal point for many young doctors who were inspired by his clinical acumen, research excellence and academic mind. He helped them to develop their careers and gain research-based postgraduate degrees. He gave his trainees the time and effort that they would not usually expect from any other supervisor, and his simple and effective teaching style made him in continuous demand to lecture for undergraduate medical students, postgraduate programmes and at national and international conferences.
He later added management responsibilities to his extensive portfolio of clinical work and led the department of paediatrics at times of major NHS reforms, gaining the confidence of his colleagues as an effective leader.
His managerial abilities were widely recognised and he was often asked to join committees, produce reports and provide advice to Grampian Health Board and NHS Scotland. Even after his retirement he was often called upon to report on services that required development or redesign.
George Russell is survived by his wife Gillian, four children and three grandchildren.
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