Professor Thomas Oppe

Paediatrician and researcher
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The Independent Online

Thomas Ernest Oppé, paediatrician: born London 7 February 1925; Lecturer in Child Health and Honorary Consultant Paediatrician, Bristol University 1956-60; Consultant Paediatrician, St Mary's Hospital 1960-90; Assistant Director, Paediatric Unit 1960-64, Director 1964-69; Professor of Paediatrics, St Mary's Hospital Medical School 1969-1990; Professor of Paediatrics, London University 1969-90 (Emeritus); Consultant Adviser in Paediatrics, DHSS 1971-86; CBE 1984; married 1948 Margaret Butcher (three sons, one daughter); died Kingston upon Thames, Surrey 24 June 2007.

As Professor of Paediatrics at St Mary's Hospital Medical School for over 20 years, Thomas Oppé he built up a large and respected department. He had a wide range of interests in children's diseases and genetic diseases that cause abnormal behaviour, and for many years advised government bodies on child health. He took a particular interest in disabled children and the Spastics Society (now Scope).

Oppé was born in Hampstead, London, the son of a stockbroker's clerk, and was educated at University College School and Guy's Hospital, qualifying in 1947 with a distinction in medicine. He stayed at Guy's to do his year as house physician and house surgeon and then to do a year of paediatrics. He did his National Service in the Navy, where a colleague had a child with Williams syndrome; he was to take a particular interest in this disorder for the rest of his life. This is a genetic abnormality where children are over-friendly but anxious, and suffer from, among other things, over-acute hearing, so that, say, a vacuum cleaner in the next room causes great anxiety. It is a great comfort to parents to know that behavioural problems stem from the syndrome and are not the fault of either them or their child.

He spent two years at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, with some months of this on a research fellowship at Harvard, before moving to St Mary's, Paddington, as Senior Registrar in Paediatrics and Lecturer in Child Health. Two years later he moved to Bristol as a consultant and senior lecturer. In 1960 he returned to St Mary's, where he spent the rest of his career, rising to be Professor of Paediatrics from 1969.

Oppé's own research was on small and premature babies, and on hypoglycaemic babies with genetic problems. He published papers on ethics, the administration of child health services, many aspects of paediatrics including the respiratory problems of newborn and premature infants, treatment of rhesus babies, vitamin D deficiency, and the ethical aspects of Aids in childhood. He often wrote in journals for nurses and midwives, and authored the Modern Textbook of Paediatrics for Nurses (1961) and Neurological Examination of Children (with R. Paine, 1966).

He was noted for his kindness to, and interest in, his patients. His wife Margaret, a former nurse whom he had married while at Guy's, ran a playgroup for some years and one day the Oppés met one of her former charges, aged 11, in the street. The girl dissolved in tears as she told them that she had been put in a children's home. Without more ado, the Oppés became her foster family.

Caroline Richmond