Dr Elizabeth Bryan: Pioneer in twin studies

Elizabeth Bryan was a consultant paediatrician at Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in London from 1979 until 2005. In 1978 she was the founder of the Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba) and in 1988 of the Multiple Births Foundation (MBF), a London-based charity which provides support to parents and information for professionals dealing with the challenges of multiple births. She was director of the MBF until 1998 and subsequently its inaugural president.

The fact that twin studies are now part of the clinical domain is largely a result of Bryan's work; and it was an uphill struggle to convince her medical colleagues of their value. Through her clinical work, she was able to provide support to parents who were often overwhelmed by the practical burdens of raising two or three, often premature, babies at the same time. Marital difficulties were frequently overlooked by general practitioners, health visitors and paediatricians alike. The particular psychology of being a twin or triplet can lead to emotional and intellectual challenges that until Bryan's work had remained unrecognised and misunderstood. Her Twins, Triplets and More (1995) has been translated into seven languages.

Elizabeth Mary Bryan was born in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, in 1942, the eldest of three sisters. Her father, Paul Bryan, was a politician who became MP for Howden and Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party. Her mother, Betty, died when Elizabeth was a junior doctor. She qualified from St Thomas's in 1966 and specialised in paediatrics, working at York Hospital and Hammersmith.

In 1979 Elizabeth Bryan was appointed Senior Research Fellow at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School. Her MD thesis Serum Immunoglobulins in Twin Pregnancy with Particular Reference to the Fetofetal Transfusion Syndrome (1977) led her to a lasting and pioneering interest in twin studies and multiple pregnancy. Her focus sharpened as she became increasingly concerned about the special problems facing families with twins. This coincided with the ever-increasing challenge faced by couples undergoing in vitro fertilisation and the multiple pregnancies that often ensued.

From 1987 onwards, she established specialist twins clinics, first in London, then in Birmingham and York. As Elia Malouf, editor of Early Human Development, wrote on Bryan's retirement in 2005: "Increasing contact with families confirmed the overwhelming requirement for better professional support – not only for the children themselves but to prepare parents for their birth and to help them meet the unique challenges of bringing up two or more babies. With typical energy and a refusal to be deterred by funding difficulties, Elizabeth responded by setting up the Multiple Births Foundation."

Her clinical teaching and academic work resulted in numerous publications, both for professionals and the public. She gave lectures all over the world and was appointed to several Visiting Professorships. Later she became the President of the International Society of Twin Studies (1998-2001) and produced an extensive series of publications, books, CDs, DVDs, videos and papers.

In 1974 she had married Ronald Higgins, a diplomat and writer, and herself went through an unsuccessful series of in vitro attempts to conceive. Her characteristic empathy was profoundly deepened by this experience. It also brought about a very creative co-authorship with her husband, and together they published a number of books and papers on infertility and the problems surrounding in vitro fertilisation.

Libby Bryan's retirement in 2005 coincided with her next big challenge, to which she responded with prodigious courage, effort and skill. A spelling mistake in the breast-cancer gene BRCA1 runs in the Bryan family. If a woman inherits the faulty copy of the gene, there is about an 80 per cent chance of her developing cancer of the ovary or breast. Libby's youngest sister, Bernadette, a priest in the Anglican church, died of ovarian cancer in 1995. Felicity, a literary agent in Oxford and Libby's other sister, also developed breast cancer and a melanoma, and after much deliberation, Libby herself had preventive surgery.

As Libby Bryan then recorded in her inspirational book, Singing the Life (2007), she was "taken by surprise" when, in June 2005, she developed obstructive jaundice caused by cancer of the pancreas. Notwithstanding all the subsequent surgery and chemotherapy, she set about researching her family's genealogy, contacting cousins in South Africa, Scotland and elsewhere. With the determination and indomitable spirit she demonstrated throughout her life she set her own and her family's story against the universal problems and worries that face those affected by cancer.

The publication of Singing the Life was greeted by acclaim from reviewers, friends and family, and the public at large. She responded generously to requests for lectures, both from professionals and the public, which culminated in a memorable interview at the Hay Festival Winter Weekend in December 2007. Libby Bryan managed that most difficult paradox – to be a stellar act without the accompanying celebrity performance. Her book is a lyrical celebration of life and what is to follow.

Patrick Pietroni

Elizabeth Mary Bryan, paediatrician: born Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire 13 May 1942; honorary consultant paediatrician, Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital, London 1979-2005; director, Multiple Births Foundation 1988-98; president, International Society of Twin Studies 1998-2001; married 1974 Ronald Higgins; died Vowchurch, Herefordshire 21 February 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power