Lives Remembered: Doctor Pamela A. Davies

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The Independent Online

All of us have encountered from time to time a person who has lived an exemplary life without pushing themselves into the limelight – a midfield player who makes goals but does not score them – and in medicine this often involves acting as the link between innovative research and traditional clinical care. Dr Pamela Davies, who died on 5 May 2009, was such a person.

Born on 2 May 1924, a daughter of the church and of partly American ancestry, she studied medicine at the University of Glasgow, later moving to Oxford as registrar and lecturer in paediatrics under the formidable Dr. Victoria Smallpiece. It was they who demonstrated that babies of low birth weight, however premature, could and should be fed and not starved, as had been the routine before the invention of the flexible indwelling feeding tube; Dr Davies also pointed out the relevance of pulmonary surfactant to the pathophysiology of so-called respiratory distress syndrome, with its discoverer, Dr R.E. Pattle, and the distinguished neonatal pathologist Dr Albert Claireaux.

But the then Regius Professor of Physics did not consider the output and nature of her research was adequate for a lecturer, and she therefore moved to the neonatal research unit of the Institute of Child Health at Hammersmith at the invitation of Prof. Sir Peter Tizard, where she undertook the follow-up of surviving infants and became an authority on the then serious problem of infection in newborn infants – the subject of her subsequent Litchfield Lecture given to the Oxford faculty.

When Tizard moved to Oxford, she found the Hammersmith Hospital less congenial and retired to become the Secretary of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Foundation for the Study of Infant Death. It was during her tenure of this important position that the mortality for so-called cot death was halved by the simple expedient of nursing babies supine rather than in the fashionable prone position.

After her final retirement from medicine practice and administration, Dr Davies lived contentedly for some years, sharing her time between London and Paris, before succumbing to the long illness, stoically endured, that led to her death.

Dr Davies never married; her fiancé having been killed in the War, and encountering no man thereafter whose qualities met his exacting standard, she devoted herself to the medical care of other women's offspring. Tallish, upright in stance, as she was intellectually and morally, always appropriately dressed, and with a natural dignity, she was a woman of staunch principles and sense of duty, but a good friend, colleague and mentor and fun to be with. Her example of how medicine should be practised is her legacy to her profession.

Professor John A. Davis

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