Obituary: David Dunn

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The Independent Culture
DAVID DUNN had a boundless energy and enthusiasm which made an impression in many fields, not least of all surgery, in which he was an exceptionally skilled practitioner and an inspirational teacher. He was dedicated to his patients and sought ways of minimising the trauma of operations. It was this thinking that led him to invent a vascular occluder (a far more gentle alternative to the metal clamps traditionally used in surgery) and to champion the technique of endoscopic, or "keyhole" surgery.

His pioneering applications in the early Nineties of keyhole surgery and his defence of this controversial new technique occupied much of his later professional life. He was delighted when it became recognised as a distinct surgical specialty and he was made President of the Association of Endoscopic Surgeons in 1997.

Born in 1939, Dunn began his medical studies at St John's College, Cambridge, and continued them at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, qualifying in 1963. He went on to various house jobs and then returned to Cambridge as an Anatomy Demonstrator.

After a trip as Medical Officer to the British East Greenland Expedition in 1966, he knuckled down to his surgical training. Initially he worked under the stern gaze of Lord Brock at the Brompton Hospital, London, and then the guidance of Sir Reginald Murley in St Albans, who appreciated the potential of this bright young surgeon.

Dunn returned to Cambridge in 1970 as Assistant Director of Research with Professor Sir Roy Calne, investigating the mechanism of rejection of organ grafts at a time when organ transplantation was in its infancy. He contributed significantly to the discovery of drugs that would control rejection (amongst them, Cyclosporin A) and were essential in establishing transplantation as a viable treatment for liver, kidney and other organ failures.

Dunn then diversified into general surgery, becoming a consultant general surgeon at Addenbrooke's Hospital in 1974, aged 35. His early work concentrated mainly in the areas of vascular, neonatal and upper gastrointestinal surgery, where he sought out new techniques and honed established ones. In order to keep abreast of the latest developments in surgery, he travelled extensively (with the Association of Surgeons and the Moynihan Chirurgical Club), visiting key research centres and importing their findings so as to keep his Cambridge practice at the forefront of medical expertise.

It was on one such trip that he encountered endoscopic techniques being applied to general surgery and was excited by the implications this could have for many routine surgical procedures. With characteristic determination and zeal he developed endoscopic surgery in Cambridge and was the first in East Anglia to perform a laparoscopic cholecystectomy (removal of the gall bladder using keyhole techniques). The benefits of these innovations could be seen, as patients were able to return home earlier, often on the same day as the operation.

In order to monitor the success rates of these operations he used the computerised surgical audit system ("Dunnfile") he had been developing at Addenbrooke's since 1980. This allowed complications to be analysed and procedures to be improved upon. Having put himself through rigorous training both on models and under the tutelage of gynaecologists familiar with keyhole techniques, Dunn was only too aware of the importance of adequate training in these procedures. He was invited to run the Comparative Audit Service for the Royal College of Surgeons, which enabled them to identify potential problems and implement the creation of recognised training programmes to teach the new techniques rather than the more traditional haphazard apprenticeship methods.

Dunn instilled his enthusiasm into many of his medical students over the years. He was Director of Medical Studies at St John's College from 1984 until 1987 and lectured at Cambridge University Clinical School from 1974, becoming Director of Surgical Studies in 1987, a post in which he continued until last year.

Apart from scientific papers he wrote several books, including the popular textbook for medical students Surgical Diagnosis and Management (1985). His love of technological innovations showed through in this, as in all other areas of his life - his possession of the latest gadgetry for presentations made him a popular lecturer both locally and internationally.

His affinity for teaching extended into the rowing world, of which he had been an active member since his university days. Over the years he coached numerous St John's College (LMBC) and Cambridge (CUBC) crews - notably the winning 1986 Cambridge crew. Latterly, he had been made Senior Treasurer of the CUBC. He had become a familiar face at Henley Royal Regatta, attending in recent years as a spectator to his two sons' rowing achievements. He had a particular gift for inspiring the young with his single-minded will to win.

Dunn retired from surgery in 1997 due to increasing illness. He continued with his other interests including lecturing, working with the CUBC and painting. He was a talented watercolour artist, selling his paintings in aid of charity. He was also a keen member of the Cambridge flying group, where he learnt to fly and gained a pilot's licence for Tiger Moths.

Throughout his life, though, his prime source of pride and enjoyment was his family. He came from a close family and had endured the death of his two younger brothers, most recently that of Richard, the independent television executive, who predeceased him by two weeks.

David Christy Dunn, surgeon: born Colchester, Essex 12 February 1939; Consultant General Surgeon, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge 1974-97; Lecturer in Surgery, Cambridge University Clinical School 1974-97, Director of Surgical Studies 1987-97; Director of Medical Studies, St John's College, Cambridge 1984-87; Director, Confidential Comparative Audit Service, Royal College of Surgeons 1991-95, Tutor in Laparoscopic Surgery 1991-97; Tutor in Laparoscopic Surgery, Paris Centre for Advanced Laparoscopic Surgery 1992-97; National Secretary, Association of Endoscopic Surgeons 1994-97, President 1997-1998; married 1969 Anne Collet (two sons, three daughters); died Cambridge 19 August 1998.