OBITUARY : Terence McSweeney

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The Independent Online
Terence McSweeney will be recognised most widely for his expertise in the management of spinal injuries. As consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry from 1956 to 1982, he was responsible for the founding of the Midland Spinal Injuries Unit there, which became internationally renowned for its research and treatment of spinal injuries.

McSweeney was born and spent his early years in Youghal, County Cork. His secondary education was at Presentation College in Cork City, and at the early age of 17 he entered Medical School at the University College. He qualified with Honours in 1943 and is remembered by his contemporaries for his perceptive and committed study and his convivial ability freely to share his erudition amongst them.

His medical career began with posts in Hull and Oxford, followed by National Service as Squadron Leader in the RAFVR in India. He then embarked on training in orthopaedic surgery. Initially in London and subsequently at Liverpool, Oswestry and Birmingham he was apprenticed to many of the great names in orthopaedic surgery including Sir Reginald Watson Jones, Sir Henry Osmond Clarke, Norman Roberts and Bryan McFarland.

In 1956 McSweeney was appointed Consultant Ortho-paedic Surgeon to the Crewe Memorial Hospital and, being responsible for virtually all trauma care, became well known to those in the railway workshops, the Rolls Royce motor factory and the farming community. Subsequently he moved to the new South Cheshire Hospital at Leighton.

At the same time, he had consultant duties at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry, where one of his first patients was a young man rendered quadriplegic after being tossed by a bull. He was well aware of the miserable deterioration which almost inevitably followed severe spinal injury but realised that a devoted unit such as that at Stoke Mandeville could significantly reverse this gloomy prospect, and determined to create such a unit in Oswestry. With encouragement from his friend and teacher Robert Roaf, McSweeney worked tirelessly to establish the Midlands Spinal Injuries Unit, which within a few years of its opening in 1969 became world-famous. Indeed there were several instances when patients arrived unannounced from abroad, causing headaches for immigration officials, administrators and interpreters. More usually, however, the visitors were surgeons, physicians, physiotherapists and nurses who left keen to apply their new-found knowledge in their home countries. Many of the present generation of British orthopaedic surgeons passed through Oswestry during the course of their training.

McSweeney became an authority on all aspects of spinal injuries and wrote extensively in leading journals and textbooks, including contributions to Disorders of the Cervical Spine (edited by Eurig Jeffreys, 1980) and Surgery of the Human Spine (edited by Gordon Findlay and Robert Owen, 1991); his most recent chapter was in a textbook on trauma published at the beginning of January this year, Fractures and Dislocations: principles of management (edited by Paul J. Gregg, Jack Stevens and Peter H. Worlock). He served on a number of editorial boards including those of the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, the trauma journal Injury and the specialist publication Paraplegia.

Shortly before his retirement the American College of Surgeons awarded McSweeney an Honorary Fellowship and last year he was elected a Life Member of the Liverpool Medical Institution. Many other honours came his way and he delivered a number of eponymous lectures both in Britain and abroad. In recent years he was a sought-after expert witness for medical aspects of spinal injury compensation and greatly enjoyed his contact with the legal profession. He regularly sat with colleagues from other specialties on Medical Appeal Tribunals.

On his travels it was remarkable how "Mac" could strike up conversation and soon find common links with those he met in unlikely places, often because of an Irish connection. He relished his journeys to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Holy Land, as through his avid reading he had gained an extraordinary knowledge of history, particularly in relation to the influence of religions. He supported the work of humani-tarian agencies large and small, and as recently as 1994 travelled with his wife to Zambia and advised on the care of disabled children in rural areas.

Terence McSweeney held deep religious convictions and a strength of faith which could be detected in his example rather than in his words.

Family life was of special importance to him. He met Joan Murray in the Scottish fishing village of Ardmore soon after his graduation; they married in 1947. In the course of his training they moved home 28 times and it was Joan who made it possible for him to excel in his profession.

Robert Owen

Terence McSweeney, orthopaedic surgeon: born Youghal, County Cork 30 October 1920; Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Leighton Hospital, Crewe 1956-82; Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt Orthopaedic Hospital, Oswestry (Emeritus) 1956-82, Director, Midland Spinal Injuries Unit 1969-82; married 1947 Joan Murray (three sons, two daughters); died Nantwich, Cheshire 14 January 1996.