Martin Kelly: Leading craniofacial surgeon

Wednesday 11 June 2008 00:00

Martin Kelly was a craniofacial surgeon who worked in the Craniofacial Unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. He was also instrumental in founding the charity Facing The World, which works to reconstruct children with severe facial deformity from around the globe. One of Britain's leading plastic surgeons, he died suddenly at the age 43, in the prime of his career.

Born Martin Hirigoyen in London in 1965 (he later adopted his mother's maiden name), he was educated in Paris and at Winchester College. He began his medical studies at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School, London, graduating in 1989. His chiselled good looks earned him modelling work as a medical student which helped to finance his studies. Whilst at medical school he declared his interest in plastic surgery, a career in which he was to rise to the very top.

He gained his basic surgical training at hospitals in Oxford and London and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1993. His early training in plastic surgery continued in Oxford and London, and by this time Kelly knew his intention to work as a craniofacial surgeon. He obtained a two-year travelling fellowship in microsurgery and craniofacial reconstruction at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. His studies there led to a doctoral thesis and he was awarded his doctorate in medicine by London University in 1997.

His formal training as a Specialist Registrar in Plastic Surgery commenced the same year on the London hospitals rotation and he obtained his fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons in plastic surgery. Early in this training, he worked with our colleague Norman Waterhouse in the Craniofacial Unit at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. The two men instantly liked each other and forged both a firm friendship and a mutual respect for each other's abilities.

This relationship was to flourish over several years culminating in Kelly's appointment as a fellow consultant craniofacial plastic surgeon in the same unit in 2001, and their joint founding of Facing The World in 2003. During his training, Kelly also travelled to study in Paris with Darina Krastinova at the Hôpital Foch, the unit founded by Paul Tessier, the father of craniofacial surgery. In Paris he was to meet and work with one of the great French rhinoplasty surgeons, Gilbert Aiach, who inspired Kelly in his passion for nasal reconstruction and rhinoplasty surgery. He also trained at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London.

As a consultant craniofacial surgeon Kelly brought together these influences and his own considerable talents to further expand the Craniofacial Unit at Chelsea and Westminster, and, together with Norman Waterhouse, to set about establishing a charity to help children around the world without access to craniofacial services.

This was inspired by Kelly's association with Médecins Sans Frontières and his experience helping children in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban; in particular a little girl with a congenital facial abnormality, who was to become one of the charity's first patients. Under his inspiration, Facing The World has grown into a large team of dedicated people who have treated over 30 children with severe facial disfigurement.

Facing The World was Martin Kelly's passion. He campaigned relentlessly to raise the funds necessary to bring disadvantaged children to the UK for surgery, as their facial deformities would require both complex surgery from multidisciplinary teams and the intensive care treatment afterwards that could not be provided locally or by visiting overseas surgeons. Many of these children are shunned in their communities and have even suffered stoning. Kelly always said that he "needed to give something back to the world".

His enthusiasm for complex craniofacial reconstruction was transmitted to all those around him and he applied his techniques to his patients with head and neck cancers at the Royal Marsden Hospital. He was interested in teaching and his clear and precise lectures were delivered with flair and well received. He strove for perfection and his attention to detail and meticulous planning of surgery were the hallmarks of his work. His cheerful manner was just as present at the end of a 12-hour operation as at the beginning and made lighter by a peppering of sharp wit. Kelly had considerable charm and a dry sense of humour which, combined with his calm and reassuring manner, endeared him to his colleagues and to his patients, who liked and trusted him.

His desire for knowledge also led him to supervise many research projects and his rigorous and careful analytical approach helped both his undergraduate and PhD research students, for whom he always had time at the end of a long day operating.

With his interest in facial reconstruction it was only natural that Kelly should have been part of the team involved in planning the UK's first facial transplantation. He also had a successful aesthetic surgery practice. He worked hard, applying the same principles as he did in his reconstructive work, continually refining and pushing forwards the boundaries of aesthetic surgery.

In 1998 he married the actress Natascha McElhone, whom he had first met 12 years earlier. Theirs was a fairytale romance and they were an intensely happy couple, with two sons, Theodore and Otis. Natascha is pregnant with their third child.

Kelly had many talents in addition to his medical accomplishments. He painted, wrote his own music and played drums and bass guitar. He played bass guitar in a band of plastic surgeons called "Tuck That" who were sufficiently accomplished to perform in a large open-air concert in Hyde Park. He enjoyed playing tennis, horse riding and skiing, mostly because these pursuits gave him time with his sons, whom he loved to teach.

Niall Kirkpatrick and Simon Eccles

Martin Bernard Hirigoyen (Martin Kelly), craniofacial plastic surgeon: born London 7 May 1965; married 1998 Natascha McElhone (two sons); died London 20 May 2008.

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