Cardiologist and academic


Professor WFM Fulton, who has died aged 91, was a cardiologist and academic who pioneered research into the causes and mechanisms of angina and heart attacks and whose major clinical interest was invasive investigation in the management of coronary disease.

Bill Fulton was born into an academic family. His father was professor of divinity at Glasgow University and Bill was brought up in Professors’ Square. His own family home was within the conservation area of the university campus. Most of his working life was spent in Stobhill Hospital and it was there as a registrar that he met his wife, Frances, with whom he shared 55 years of happily married life.

He was educated at Downhill School, Glasgow, and Bryanston School in Dorset. He had an outstanding undergraduate career at the University of Glasgow where he graduated in medicine with commendation in 1945, having obtained many prizes in a great variety of topics. His postgraduate training was initially at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow.

He then completed his national service as a surgeon in the merchant navy with the Blue Funnel line travelling to the United States and Australia. He completed his training at Stobhill Hospital, enhanced by a period as a senior fellow in cardiology at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, working in invasive cardiology with world renowned cardiologists Helen Taussig and Richard Ross.

He was a meticulous and caring doctor whose letters after consultation were thorough and holistic. He championed cardiology services at Stobhill Hospital, at all times fighting for facilities matching the other hospitals in Glasgow. A care unit was established as well as a comprehensive cardiac resuscitation and defibrillation programme.

A direct admissions service to the coronary care unit was established allowing GPs to contact the unit direct, with ambulance delivery of patients to the back door of the unit bypassing the delay within the A&E department and allowing early effective treatment of patients with heart attacks. These changes also involved an extended role of the duties of the nursing staff in the unit which was a major innovation.

He also had a major role in the development of general medical and cardiological services in Kenya as a member of the group from Glasgow University who helped set up the medical school. He was initially acting head, then appointed to the foundation chair as professor of medicine at the University of Nairobi from 1967–1972. This provided a broadly based challenge consistent with the high prevalence of acute and severe illnesses requiring the development of services at the Kenyatta National Hospital, other clinics and hospitals and governmental agencies.

Bill always had a keen interest in teaching students in Glasgow but his time in Nairobi provided a huge challenge in developing undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. He overcame the challenges of a new university by his persistence, example, and diplomacy. By the time he left Nairobi the academic staff and student population had both risen substantially.

He delivered the entire lecture course in pharmacology. He also played a role in the development of postgraduate education in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and fostered a research programme under difficult circumstances.

His principal research activity related to the causes and mechanisms of angina and heart attacks. This lead to an honours MD from Glasgow University in 1960 and a classic textbook published in 1965.

His research methods were subsequently used by many other international workers. The role of coronary thrombosis and its relationship to the development of heart attacks was studied and provided information in the area of new vessel development and pushed the concepts of treatment interventions towards methods of opening up the coronary arteries, a therapy (known as thrombolysis) which has been life-saving for many thousands. These studies formed the basis of many invited international lectures and landmark papers in the Lancet and other journals and numerous book chapters.

It became a pilgrimage for aspiring cardiologists to see his wonderful slides and discuss clinical outcomes of patients at Stobhill Hospital where he gave unsparingly of his time, and subsequently at Braemar where he continued to work till the week of his death.

Bill and Frances have always been strong supporters of the Scottish Cardiac Society. A lifetime achievement award recognising his research studies was presented at the autumn meeting of the Scottish Cardiac Society in September 2010 and a permanent display of his research work is being created in the library of the Golden Jubilee National Hospital, Glasgow’s major cardiac unit.

He died in Braemar, where his family had long connections, and leaves his wife Frances, son Jamie and daughter-in-law Liz, daughter Ghillie and six grandchildren.