Scotsman Obituaries: Hugh Bain, pioneering paediatric cardiologist

Dr Hugh Hall Bain, MB ChB, FRCPE,FRCP. Born: 17 March 1938 in Leicestershire. Died: 15 May 2021, aged 83

Although born in Leicester, Hugh Bain always considered himself a true Scot.

Although Hugh Bain was born in Leicester he always kept this a secret as he considered himself a true Scot.

His father was a psychiatrist at the Leicester City Hospital and his mother a GP. He had two brothers.

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Shortly after the start of the war his mother saw a coupon to receive a free sample of Weetabix She sent it off and received a year’s supply of the cereal. Before they could enjoy it all, Bain’s father was called up and the family relocated back to mother’s family home in Antrim, Northern Ireland, where they stayed until the end of the war. They returned to Leicester to open up their house and the Weetabix was still perfectly edible. Shortly after, they relocated to Edinburgh, where his father obtained a consultant post.

Bain attended Dalhousie Preparatory School in Fife and then transferred to Merchiston Castle, Edinburgh, to complete his schooling. Being surrounded by doctors, it is not surprising that he decided at an early age that medicine was for him.

He was accepted to Edinburgh University in spite of having A levels in English, History and Latin – no doubt his sporting prowess helped. During student days he played rugby to a high level and at one stage was called in to see the Dean, who counselled him on his priorities.

He had an enduring love of rugby and was a very accomplished full back who captained Edinburgh Wanderers and was a Scottish Triallist. Whilst working in Sussex Bain was selected to play for Southern Counties against the All Blacks

After graduation Bain worked in hospitals in Sussex for a year and there met his future wife, Francine, who was a teacher. He returned to The Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children and became fascinated by those with heart problems.

He obtained a Fellowship to work in Toronto, which was one of the world’s leading centres, where he gained valuable experience.

In 1978 Bain was appointed to a Consultant post in Newcastle where he joined fellow Scot Stewart Hunter and they were a formidable team, developing one of the best children’s heart units in the UK. Many babies and children are referred to Newcastle from across the whole of the UK and it is one of only two centres in the UK performing heart transplants in children and, in 1987, the first transplant in a baby.

Bain was a consummate clinician. Prior to the advent of modern imaging methods clinical examination was essential for making a correct diagnosis. His methodical and painstaking examinations of children’s hearts with only a stethoscope for help would almost always come up with the correct diagnosis, later confirmed by either radiology or at operation.

His outpatient clinics invariably overran but parents accepted this as they knew that when their turn came they would have his undivided attention for as long as was needed.

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Bain worked exceptionally long hours and on one memorable occasion he had been up most of the night in the catheter lab and had to do a clinic. His last patient of the day proved just too much and he fell asleep during the consultation. The parents quietly left the room with their child and when Bain woke he was horrified. At the end of the day he got into his car and drove many miles to finish the consultation at home.

He wrote meticulous notes in small handwriting which over the years became tiny, but they were essential reading and very educational.

Whilst his colleague Hunter was more extrovert, undertaking research, teaching and taking part in national committees, Bain was quiet and reflective – all he wanted to do was look after patients.

He was a superb teacher and was widely known by his colleagues as Huge Brain. He was highly respected by all staff and especially by nurses.

Bain and Hunter established the Children’s Heart Unit Fund (CHUF) which has raised more than £10 million to support the unit. A former chairman of CHUF, Bernie McCardle, and his wife Susan, commented: “Learning that your child has a heart defect is one of the most traumatic times for a parent. Knowing that your child was being treated by Dr Bain made it so much easier. He had a natural ability to connect with parents and children and put them at ease. He was held in the highest esteem by so many parents, families and children attending the Children’s Heart Unit at Freeman and he will be forever remembered in the hearts of so many he cared for”

Bain was a keen sportsman with an enduring love of rugby, and a regular visitor to Murrayfield. He was also a keen golfer, spending many holidays at St Andrews. He also played cricket and was a regular skier.

In retirement he furthered his interest in Latin and played bridge. He was a great lover of dogs and over the years owned five golden retrievers.

Bain was a committed family man who had three children and four grandchildren who, along with his wife of 56 years, survive him.

Bain and Hunter were a formidable team. They shared a love of cardiology, had the same birthday and died within weeks of one an other with dementia (Hunter’s obituary is at Scotsman Online). Hunter had a best golf handicap of 12 and Bain 10

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