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Lewis Spitz

Emeritus Professor Lewis Spitz was born in Pretoria in August 1939. He matriculated at Christian Brothers College, Pretoria, and attended medical school at Pretoria University, graduating with the MBChB in 1962. He trained as a general surgeon in our teaching hospitals, where his mentor was the late Professor Sonny du Plessis, afterwards Vice-Chancellor at our University. Spitz became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Surgeons, Edinburgh in 1969. In 1970, Spitz was awarded a Smith & Nephew Fellowship which enabled him to follow his interest in paediatric surgery at Alder Hey Childrens Hospital in Liverpool and at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. He returned to South Africa in 1972 and was appointed consultant paediatric surgeon at A Baragwanath Hospital.  In 1973, he was promoted to senior consultant paediatric surgeon at the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children.

Spitz left for the United Kingdom again in November 1974, to take up an appointment as consultant paediatric surgeon at the Children’s Hospital Sheffield, and as honorary Clinical Lecturer in Paediatric Surgery at the University of Sheffield. Primarily based on research carried out in Sheffield, Spitz was awarded the degree of PhD (Med) by our University in 1980. By then he had left Sheffield, to take up appointment as Nuffield Professor of Paediatric Surgery in the Institute of Child Health, University of London, and Honorary Consultant Paediatric Surgeon, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.

The appointment to the chair of Paediatric Surgery in the University of London was the pinnacle of Lewis Spitz’s career. He remained in the post until retirement in 2004 and now is Emeritus Professor of Paediatric Surgery at that university. In the 25 years he spent at the helm, Spitz enhanced both the clinical and the research reputations of paediatric surgery at Great Ormond Street, which increasingly became a worldwide centre of excellence for the surgical treatment of children. Spitz s reputation as clinician and teacher attracted staff and students from all over the world, many of whom became leading paediatric surgeons in their native countries.

Spitz has devoted his professional life to the treatment of sick children. He has also contributed very substantially to research in the field of paediatric surgery. His curriculum vitae lists nearly 400 publications, many in leading journals, for the majority of which he has been the first, or the senior, author. He has written 82 chapters in books, and authored or edited nine leading books and textbooks: it’s not surprising that he is internationally renowned as a leader in the field of paediatric surgery.

Lewis Spitz has played an important role in professional bodies too. From 1996 to 1998 he was the President of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons. He remains, in retirement, an executive member for the World Federation of Paediatric Surgical Associations. In 2007 he became the President of the Paediatric Section of the Royal Society of Medicine. He is an editor of two major surgical journals, and is, or has been, on the editorial boards of several others.

Spitz has been a visiting professor or consultant in China, Thailand, India, Australia, Canada, America (in various states and over many years), Europe and in this country. He has lectured on most continents, and delivered innumerable conference papers. His extraordinary ability as a surgeon has been recognised by the grant of many awards and honours, including being named Hunterian Professor of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1992, being awarded the Clement Price Thomas Medal in recognition of meritorious contributions to surgery and in particular the surgery of conjoined twins (2004), the James Spence medal (Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, 2004), and the Dennis Browne Gold Medal from the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons. In addition Spitz has been awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Sheffield (2002), an honorary F P by the American Academy of Pediatrics, an honorary FRCPCH by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, an honorary FRCS by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and an honorary FCS (SA) by the College of Medicine in South Africa.

Lewis Spitz is world renowned for leading the surgical team at Great Ormond Street in its separation and treatment of conjoined twins. Surgery of this nature requires not only great skill and patience, but also ethical judgement, and compassion. The best statement to his work in this regard is the making by the BBC of a documentary on his work and on the twins whose lives he has made possible. Eight survivors separated by Spitz over two decades came together from different parts of Britain and from the USA to honour him on his retirement from the Institute of Child Health.

Paediatric surgery requires not only great technical skills and experience: it also requires dedication, devotion and compassion. Spitz is known for the caring that he has shown not only to the infants and children whom he has treated but also to their parents and families. He has counselled parents in anguish over the decision to separate conjoined twins and has taught the many surgeons who have trained under him the importance of ethical and compassionate care. His views and his work have received considerable media attention over the years, and several television programmes have featured his work, especially on conjoined twins.

Lewis Spitz has done extraordinary work over many decades. The President of the British Association of Paediatric Surgeons has said of him: "Through clarity of vision, inquisitiveness and a challenging approach to basic research and clinical application, [he has] resolved many of the complex problems of childhood diseases. Innovative surgical approaches were developed which have changed clinical practice. He is world-renowned for his work on esophageal atresia, esophageal replacement and nesidioblastosis. [He has] played a pivotal role in our understanding of ethical considerations and surgical separation of conjoined twins."

Spitz s teaching and his publications will continue to be influential in the field of paediatric surgery. He deserves to be honoured by Wits, in recognition of his contribution to surgery on every continent.