From Diamond drilling to Heart Transplants

Sir Terence English
Born in South Africa in 1932, his father (a mining engineer) died when he was 14 months old. On leaving school, he spent a year as a diamond driller in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) then did a degree in Mining Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand. When he was 21, an unexpected family bequest allowed Sir Terence English to change the course of Transplantation History by pursuing a career in Medicine. Performing the first successful Heart Transplantation in the UK in 1979, Sir Terence attributes this and subsequent successes to the ‘team’ working skills he acquired during his time in Mining Engineering. Knighted for his contribution to surgery and a former President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, he is a colossus on the world surgical stage. Having achieved almost every high office during his career, he is still more comfortable talking about his family and the patients who made this all possible. For many UK trainees, his name is synonymous with the ‘English’ clause, which gave exemptions to surgical trainees limited by reduced hours for training to allow them to achieve the necessary competencies. Here, Surgery International meets up with Sir Terence at his Oxfordshire home.
Sir Terence English

It is an insight into the character of a man who, when asked to reflect on a defining moment in his illustrious surgical career, pays tribute to the patient whose life he saved rather than bask in his own extraordinary achievements. And if this feature were no longer than the first paragraph, it would be enough to convey insight into the nature of a remarkable man.

I have more than a passing interest in his illustrious career. My own father suffered from heart disease in his forties and had a life chequered with cardiac surgery. Kicking off with coronary artery bypass surgery in 1981, he wore his chest scar with pride. His ‘zipper’ was, he believed, testimony to ‘that wonderful British institution that is the National Health Service’. So, with this in mind, I take great pleasure in speaking with Sir Terence at his home one warm September morning.

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