Born: 28 April, 1966 in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.Died: 18 October, 2014 in Aberdeen, aged 48.
Mark Bloch grew up in the maelstrom of Rhodesia’s brutal civil war, born just a few months after premier Ian Smith’s government issued its unilateral declaration of independence from the UK.
The guerrilla fighting and bush war that followed UDI and United Nations sanctions held a mirror up to the turbulence, extreme poverty and suffering of swathes of the nation. It was in this crucible of conflict that his ambition was forged: he saw medicine as a way to make a meaningful difference.
And almost right from the start of his medical career he was involved at the sharp end – from helping the South African Red Cross Air Mercy Service in Cape Town through to becoming clinical lead for helicopters servicing the North Sea energy industry and a frontline medic providing pre-hospital care in some of the most traumatic situations.
His day job was as a consultant anaesthetist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI) and Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital but his passion for volunteering out in the field knew no bounds and it was there that his youthful resolution to make a difference was most keenly illustrated.
When golfer Bernard Gallacher suffered a cardiac arrest at an Aberdeen hotel last year Bloch was the medic who saved him three times in the back of an ambulance. When a young woman was trapped in a car crash, he was the one who left his little daughter’s birthday celebrations to keep the victim breathing and administer pain relief while her foot was amputated with a penknife and scissors. He was subsequently the guest of honour at a party to mark the patient’s discharge from hospital. “Mark was one in a million,” she said. “If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here today.”
Bloch, the son of prominent economist Eric Walter Bloch and his wife Baileh, a teacher, was born in Bulawayo and educated at Carmel Primary, then a Jewish school, before attending Milton Senior School. During his childhood, with war raging and people dying around him, he had decided that his life would be about saving people and he embarked on his studies in medicine at South Africa’s Cape Town University in 1985
He spent his free time volunteering and taking a mobile hospital into the townships, working at the height of apartheid with some of society’s most underprivileged people. He graduated in 1990, receiving a medal for achieving the highest results across the nation in his cohort for his final exam in anaesthesia.
After a spell working at the Groote Schuur in Cape Town, during which time he was also a clinician with the ambulance service and assisted the Red Cross Air Mercy Service, he moved in 1999 to Chelsea and Westminster and St Mary’s Hospitals, London as a consultant in paediatric and adult anaesthesia. He was founding medical director for the high-fidelity patient simulation and multi-professional good clinical practice centre at Chelsea and Westminster and continued his interest in this field when he moved to Aberdeen in January 2005 as a consultant with NHS Grampian.
He was involved in many areas of pre-hospital care and was instrumental in the setting up of the Grampian Immediate Care Scheme. He was on the board of both the British Association for Immediate Care Scotland, a charity promoting high-quality, pre-hospital emergency care, and the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh, for which he was also an examiner.
He was a strong supporter of the Sandpiper Trust, a charity that aims to equip pre-hospital volunteers, and was the clinical lead for Bond Offshore Helicopters and the JIGSAW Search and Rescue helicopter covering the offshore industry in the North Sea.
A consultant on the ARI pre-hospital trauma team, he had been involved in many harrowing incidents and was intent on boosting pre-hospital care provision in the North-east by improving the clinical governance practices and developing the paramedic professional role and career pathway. He believed in competency-based care provision rather than job title-related scope of practice and his flexibility and lateral thinking made him particularly suited to the pre-hospital environment.
His motivation from the outset was always to improve patient care through excellence in his own practice, teaching and enabling others to do their best. He had that rare gift of being able to distil information to its simplest level, enabling him to connect and educate equally well such diverse groups as rural farmers in muddy fields and senior consultants doing their advanced training through the Royal College.
An honorary clinical senior lecturer at Aberdeen University and an active member of the Grampian Immediate Care Scheme, which recently saw the introduction of a pre-hospital response car based at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, in 2012 he was honoured for his contribution to emergency care in Scotland work with the Queen’s Jubilee Medal.
Beyond his myriad professional roles, he had a keen interest in the history of medicine and kept a small private collection of pieces at home. He also loved the history of flight and aircraft, particularly their use in the world wars. He had a lifelong love of motorbikes and was seldom without one, plus a passion for all things technological, resulting in him carrying up to three phones – always the latest version – with multiple Sim cards.
Though undoubtedly a man at the top of his game, he was humble by nature, an engaging mentor and respected strategist. He treated all as his equal and had recently returned home to Bulawayo to nurse his widowed father who passed away in September.
Dr Bloch is survived by his wife Vannin, whom he married in 1999, their daughters Ella and Hannah, his brothers Raphi and Barry and sister Ruth.