Obituary: Dr Susan Bellman

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The Independent Culture
AS ONE of the first fully trained Audiological Physicians in the UK, Susan Bellman became nationally and internationally renowned for her outstanding work with hearing impaired children at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street.

She was born Susan Evans in London in 1947 and educated at Erdington Grammar School in Birmingham. When she gained a place to read Medicine at Cambridge, her school celebrated by giving the pupils a day's holiday. At Cambridge, she gained a full Blue for swimming. She pursued her clinical training at St Mary's Hospital, London, and achieved the unusual distinction of obtaining her first house job in her initial interest of Ear, Nose and Throat surgery at another London Teaching Hospital, the Middlesex.

Subsequently, she obtained fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons but became increasingly attracted by the intellectual challenges of Audiological Medicine, a new speciality established by the Royal College of Physicians in 1976. Bellman was one of the first trainees in this area, specialising in the diagnosis and medical management of hearing and balance disorders with a particular interest in children.

In 1983, she was appointed Consultant Audiological Physician to the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, to develop the small, but successful Department of Audiology, which had been founded by Dr Larry Fisch. Over the next 15 years, she developed what she saw as a Cinderella speciality into a world-renowned department, increasing the staff from one part-time consultant to three full-time consultants, and from one technician to a complement of 16 paramedical scientists, technicians and teachers of the deaf.

The expanded department provided an Audiology service to all Great Ormond Street departments as well as a tertiary service for the local districts and a specialist service on which many of her Audiological and Otological colleagues throughout the country drew. Around 3,000 children a year were seen in her department, in which specialised services included a high risk neo-natal screening service for hearing impairment in the local districts and vestibular testing in children nationwide.

Her department was the first centre in the UK to provide osseo-integrated bone anchored hearing aids for children, including those with cranio-facial malformations. In autumn 1992 she established the cochlear implant programme at Great Ormond Street. Her pioneering vision allowed the implantation of children with multiple handicaps, who were routinely turned down in other centres. Bellman obtained great satisfaction from witnessing the rapid development of spoken language in children who would otherwise have been partially or severely socially handicapped. A children's party to celebrate the 100th cochlear implant at the hospital was held in December 1997 to coincide with Bellman's premature retirement.

Bellman cared passionately about her patients and strove to ensure the development of Audiological Medicine as a means of promoting the care of the hearing impaired. She was Chairman of both the examining committee and the investigating committee of the Hearing Aid Council and served on the Council of the British Society of Audiology. She was an officer of the British Association of Audiological Physicians and Editor of the Bulletin of the International Association of Physicians in Audiology. She wrote widely and authoritatively on all areas of paediatric Audiological Medicine, especially in the area of multiple handicap (she was Honorary Audiologist, at the Royal National Institute for the Blind).

She was particularly interested in bringing care to those for whom access to medical services was difficult. To this end she developed a speech discrimination test for Bengali-speaking children. She also taught at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level in Otology, Audiological Medicine and Paediatrics and was a founder member of Women in Medicine.

Outside her career, Susan Bellman was an enthusiast for life. Despite almost two decades of chronic illness, she travelled widely and pursued many interests with determination and vigour. She was an accomplished pianist, a superb swimmer and a gifted artist. In later life she developed an interest in machine knitting and creative embroidery and continually expanded her encyclopaedic knowledge of gardening. Her most recent intellectual pursuit was to begin a degree course in Biblical Hebrew, having enthusiastically adopted the Jewish faith upon her first marriage.

Although a retiring and modest person, Susan Bellman is regarded as a pivotal figure in the development of Audiological Medicine. Her contribution in the field of Paediatric Audiology in the UK is unsurpassed and her influence has changed current medical practice significantly.

Susan Caroline Evans, audiological physician: born London 27 April 1947; FRCS 1981; Consultant Audiological Physician and Head of the Department of Audiological Medicine, Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street 1983-97; married 1974 Martin Bellman (marriage dissolved 1990; three sons), 1996 Gerald Levin (two stepdaughters); died London 9 November 1998.