Obituary: Sam Rawlinson, OBE

Innovator in battlefield blood transfusion saw his methods adopted widely. Picture: contributed
Innovator in battlefield blood transfusion saw his methods adopted widely. Picture: contributed
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INNOVATOR in battlefield blood transfusion saw his methods adopted widely

Sam Rawlinson (Col L/RAMC/V rtd) OBE TD FRCS FRCP. Doctor, blood expert, long-serving TA member and veteran of two Gulf Wars.

Born: 5 July, 1958, in Colchester, Essex.

Died: 13 March, 2016, in Abernethy, Perthshire, aged 57.

Sam Rawlinson stood out from the crowd in so many arenas: war zones; the medical field; youth work and his more personal relationships. But those to whom he made the greatest difference, through an extraordinary life cut prematurely short, may not even have known his name.

People like the injured soldier who received more than 70 pints of blood thanks to his work helping to design and deliver a blood transfusion service on the battlefield that has now been adopted across the UK.

Though he insisted its success was down to outstanding team work from experts at home, in NATO, the RAF and in healthcare in Afghanistan and Iraq, he was a fiercely determined force behind the initiative, a man never to shirk commitment or duty, and his contribution was recognised with awards of both Healthcare Reservist of the Year and an OBE.

In his spare time, such as it was, he and his wife volunteered as helpers and assessors for the Duke of Edinburgh awards and had just been about to take a group of youngsters kayaking in Canada when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Having survived two Gulf Wars, this was one adversity he could not overcome although, as in everything he took on, he tackled it in his own way – even recceing the ward escape routes to abscond for a “pipe break”, hotly pursued by half a dozen nurses.

Peter Samuel Marshall Rawlinson – “Colonel Sam” to his military colleagues – was born in Colchester, the son of Dr Peter Rawlinson and his wife Diana, a nurse, and lived above his father’s GP surgery. He was educated at Holmwood House Prep and Felsted schools in Sussex and was discovered to be dyslexic after achieving almost top marks in Maths but a terrible score in English.

Initially he had ambitions to become either a vet or an archaeologist and although he was interviewed for admission to Cambridge University he wasn’t keen on the institution so opted instead to go to St Andrews. He went up in 1976 and there he met his future wife, Dr Beena Raschkes, becoming engaged after just one date and marrying as students in 1981. By that time he had graduated with a BSc and was at Manchester University medical school studying for his MBChB. He qualified in 1982 and took junior medical and surgical jobs at Manchester’s Withington Hospital and then Park Hospital, Davyhulme, Trafford, the birthplace of the NHS .

Although his interest in blood had originated during his time at St Andrews, it developed further when he had duties as a laboratory biomedical scientist at Manchester Royal Infirmary. That experience gave him a breadth and depth of knowledge of blood and testing as well as an understanding of the work and functioning of laboratories.

He followed that with a post as registrar in the bone marrow transplant unit and haematology department of Glasgow Royal Infirmary which he joined in 1987.

Meanwhile he was also a member of the Territorial Army, having signed up as a student to counteract his concern that he was missing out on some of the more exciting outdoor pursuits the world had to offer. He spent a total of 22 years in the Royal Army Medical Corps and commanded both Dundee-based 225 General Support Medical Regiment and 205 Scottish Field Hospital.

But it was during his time in Glasgow that he served in Operation Granby, the first Gulf War, in 1991. The experience of that conflict continued to resonate with him down the years and changed the career route he wished to pursue.

He had applied for a haematology post at Leeds Royal Infirmary but told the hospital he had decided he should really be looking for a transfusion position instead. As a result they employed him as a transfusion specialist and he spent two years there as a senior registrar.

He then took up a post as a civilian haematology consultant at the Army Blood Supply Depot in Aldershot, Hampshire, before moving to Scotland in 1996 as consultant for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS).

He became clinical director of the East of Scotland Blood Transfusion service, based at Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital, in 1999 and latterly was the clinical lead for SNBTS Clinical Transfusion Laboratories based in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness. He also went on to serve in the second Gulf War, Operation Telic, which began in 2003.

In addition Rawlinson was Defence Consultant Advisor (DCA) for Transfusion Medicine and UK Blood Transfusion Advisor to NATO for five years, from 2005-09, and visited both Iraq and Afghanistan a number of times as DCA.

He helped to design and deliver a transfusion service that provided transfusion support to patients injured in Afghanistan and Iraq, for both pre-hospital transfusion support and massive transfusion. Originally used in a military setting, these developments have been adopted UK-wide.

In 2008 he was named Healthcare Reservist of the Year at the Military and Civilian Health Partnership Awards in London and praised by Scotland’s then public health minister Shona Robison for his inspirational work and commitment to healthcare which she described as “second to none”.

At the time he said: “Without a doubt the work I do in my military role is benefiting my day job back in Scotland. We’ve substantially upgraded the clinical practice for patients with severe trauma, based on military experience out in the field.” The following year he was made an OBE.

After more than two decades’ service with the TA, which he could not have completed without the support of his wife, he felt the couple could make a difference together and chose the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. They took youngsters, including those from a special needs group, on expeditions to the hills and were thrilled by the transformation they could bring about.

They sea kayaked around the Summer Isles in preparation for their Canadian trip but last June he was diagnosed with cancer. In his final nine months he astounded friends, family and health professionals with his upbeat attitude and courageous approach to his illness.

He planned his own funeral, which included music from the soundtracks of the films Good Morning Vietnam and The Great Escape, plus Monty Python’s Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, and, appropriately, I Vow To Thee My Country.

He is survived by his wife Beena, and their sons Benno, an endurance racer and adventurer, and Fraser, a rugby player and Royal Marine.