Obituary: Jimmy Scott, orthopaedic surgeon

James Henry Sheilswood Scott, orthopaedic surgeon. Born: 13 October, 1921, in India. Died: 2 November, 2010, in Edinburgh, age 89.

Jimmy Scott, a much respected orthopaedic surgeon, lived through, and contributed to, a most remarkable period of development in his specialty.

When he commenced his orthopaedic career in 1947, poliomyelitis was the major orthopaedic disorder, tuberculosis of bones and joints was treated by months of bed rest in a sanatorium regime and the treatments available for chronic arthritis were very limited and rather ineffective.

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Fractures were generally treated by immobilisation in plaster cast or by long periods of bed rest with traction applied to the limb. Orthopaedic hospitals were referred to as "long stay" hospitals. The few orthopaedic surgeons were obliged to tackle all types of orthopaedic problems; there were not enough to allow the luxury of super-specialisation.

Within a few years the Salk vaccine had wiped out polio in this country. Effective antibiotic treatment became available for tuberculosis and greatly reduced the period of hospitalisation and virtually eradicated the disease.

Artificial joint replacement was introduced for the treatment of chronic arthritis, largely due to the initiative of the great British orthopaedic surgeon Sir John Charnley.

Techniques were developed to treat most fractures with surgical fixation devices which allowed accurate reduction and early mobilisation. The specialty expanded enormously to cope with the new opportunities and orthopaedics became "short-stay", many of the procedures being carried out as day cases.

Most surgeons now specialise in specific areas in which they become very expert in the new technologies. It was a very exciting period to practise orthopaedic surgery.

Jimmy Scott was born in 1921 in India, where his father was a medical officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps. At the age of four he was sent back to Scotland to be educated, which involved long periods of separation from his parents, furloughs in these days of the Raj being infrequent.

He attended Glasgow Academy and finished his schooling at Trinity College Glenalmond where he excelled at sport, being a member of the rugby team which won the Scottish schools championship in 1938.

He studied medicine at Edinburgh University from 1939 to 1944 where he became captain of the university rugby team and president of the athletic club. After qualifying he did his army service at the end of the war attached to a commando brigade in India and Hong Kong.

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On release from the army Scott commenced his surgical training with Walter (later Sir Walter) Mercer in the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Wattie, as he was affectionately known, was a remarkable surgeon, uniquely skilled in all fields of his craft, including operations on the chest, abdomen and the limbs.He was appointed the first professor of Orthopaedic Surgery in Edinburgh (and the third in the UK) and it was during Scott's attachment to his unit that he was inspired to specialise in this field. Scott continued his training in Oxford with Professor Trueta and returned to Edinburgh as a consultant in 1960, working at the Western General and Princes Margaret Rose Hospitals.

During his career he developed a particular interest in back problems and devised an original operation for the management of a particular type of instability of the spine.

He also took over the surgical management of problems of inequality of limb length, a development which had been pioneered in Edinburgh in the 1930s by Mr WV Anderson. He was one of the first surgeons in Edinburgh to undertake the new joint replacements.

In 1966 he spent six months in Baroda in India as a visiting professor in a World Health Organisation project linking Edinburgh University with that city.

Scott's great asset was his genial personality and genuine interest in his friends and their families. His patients appreciated not only his skilled care but his concern for them as individuals and loved him for it.

Hospital staff of all grades were greeted cheerfully as equals and referred to him as a "real gentleman" or a "lovely man". Trainees enjoyed an attachment to his unit where they learned not only orthopaedic technique but how to treat patients with dignity and respect.

Many former trainees attended his funeral - a measure of their respect for him.

Sport played a prominent part in Scott's life. When his rugby days were over he became a skilful squash player and enjoyed beating much younger opponents.

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Golf assumed increasing importance after his retirement in 1987 and he was a popular member of Muirfield and Bruntsfield Golf Courses. When in his 80s, he achieved every golfer's ambition of a hole-in-one, which, alas he was unable to witness for by then his eyesight had begun to fail.

He had an inventive streak, however, which he used to good effect in designing aids for disabled people. For himself, he devised a system of ocular devices which enabled him to extend his golfing days longer than might otherwise have been possible.

He continued to curl until he became virtually blind, by providing the skip with a light to mount on the end of his brush to which he could direct his stone.

Jimmy Scott was unassuming and self-deprecating, genuinely unaware of his great popularity and his many achievements at work and play. He will be greatly missed by his many friends, patients and particularly by his family to whom he was devoted, but he has left all with many happy memories.Rhoda, his wife of 65 years, who had been a fellow medical student, gave him great support throughout life and cared for him at home during his final illness with the help of their much loved four children, two of whom have followed the family tradition of medicine, and his four grandchildren.