Dr Michael Fitzgerald

Michael Gerald FitzGerald

Consultant physician Birmingham (b 1924; q Birmingham 1947; MD, FRCP), died from old age on 6 September 2017

Widely known as “Fitz,” Michael Gerald FitzGerald was a respected and well liked consultant physician specialising in clinical diabetes and thyroid disease at the General Hospital Birmingham, where he led the department from 1964 to his retirement in 1989. A fine physician, a man of great integrity and a delightful personality, he was popular with patients, their families, and the staff who worked with him at the hospital where he both started and finished his medical career.

Born in Birmingham on 25 August 1924, the only child of Winifred and Major Lancelot FitzGerald, Michael was schooled during the war years. Perhaps a slow starter, he nonetheless achieved a scholarship for King Edward’s School, he took his school certificates during the Birmingham blitz. He was an active sportsman, representing the school in cricket, hockey, and rugby, and he ended up achieving good results in his highers, a scholarship in biology, and a scholarship entrance into Birmingham University Medical School.

His medical school years (1942-47) gave him many happy memories. He studied exceptionally hard, but he also became an integral part of the hospitals social life. He won the Bertram Windle anatomy prize 1944, the Samson Gamgee surgery prize 1947, the midwifery and gynaecology prize 1947, the Ingleby scholarship 1947, the Queen’s scholarship 1947, and a distinction in surgery. Any spare time he had he used to play rugby, cricket, or hockey. He also went rock climbing in north Wales, Scotland, the Alps, and the Pyrenees, in the days of hemp ropes and hobnail boots

It was at this time that he met his wife to be, Iona Yates, a nurse at the General Hospital Birmingham. His courtship of “Steve” (as Iona was nicknamed) was short. They married in January 1949 and remained together for the next 67 years.

In the same year, Fitz left to do his national service with the Royal Air Force in Aden, as medical officer to the local levee soldiers and their families.

On his return he continued his medical career at the General and Queen Elizabeth hospitals with house jobs, a resident medical officer’s role, and then a resident registrar job. This was followed by a research fellow role at Cardiff Royal Infirmary between 1954 and 1956. Between 1956 and 1958 he was clinical research fellow in the department of biochemistry under Professor Sir H Krebs at Queen’s College, Oxford. On returning to Birmingham as a senior registrar, he accepted the role of consultant physician in 1964 and gained his fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians in April 1968.

During these years he became father to three girls and a boy, and the family established their home in Edgbaston. Fitz’s chief interests were gardening and hill walking, and he was able to indulge in both at the old cottage he owned in Radnorshire.

Fitz was first and foremost an astute general physician who left a lasting influence on the training of numerous medical staff, who went on to become consultants in the UK and abroad. Under Professor John Malins, the diabetes clinic at the General Hospital Birmingham was held to be the biggest in the country. It continued to flourish under Fitz and turned into a huge undertaking for three days a week, with three or four desks in operation in a very large room, which afforded little privacy to patients or staff.

The other special feature of diabetes at the General was Ward 1, a small dedicated inpatient ward that also held all the diabetes patients’ hospital notes, secretarial support, and a library. It had an integral coma room, allowing management protocols to be developed and audited—which is not so easy these days as acute diabetes related emergencies go on almost anywhere in a hospital. This specialist ward also worked well for patient education, in the days before structured diabetes education and made possible Sister Janet Kinson’s and Dr Malcolm Nattrass’s development of a qualification for the first diabetes nurse specialists.

FitzGerald also developed the hospital’s thyroid clinic, which he ran jointly with Geoffrey Oates’s surgical team.

 

He also welcomed staff from Professor Raymond Hoffenberg’s department of medicine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital into this clinic, thereby providing Hoffenberg with an important specialty base. Fine needle aspiration cytology of the thyroid was pioneered here.

FitzGerald published at least 48 research papers between 1954 and 1989, the early ones with Paul Fourman on electrolytes. He took a particular interest in the diagnosis of diabetes in elderly patients, in actuarial studies, and in the assessment of new therapies. Eleven of his papers were related to ketoacidosis. He contributed to our understanding of the pathology of renal disease in diabetes with studies by Professor Douglas Brewer. The observation of the association of foot lesions with retinopathy in patients with newly diagnosed diabetes is a classic. Fitz became honorary secretary of the medical and scientific section of the British Diabetic Association and was also offered a professorship in medicine, but after much thought he turned down this role so he could remain a clinician.

He retired 65 and with his wife moved to a smallholding in the Peak District National Park near Sheffield, where he continued his lifelong interest by developing a large garden. They had a very long and happy retirement together, and he became grandfather to six grandchildren. He had always been a man of many and varied enthusiasms, but his enjoyment of fine wine and his garden stayed with him all his life. He sadly lost Iona in 2016, but although he spent his last year living alone with the support of his family, he never stopped looking ahead in a most marvellous way, treating his situation as just another hurdle to overcome, and he certainly kept on learning with a remarkably cheerful outlook.

Alex Wright,

Robert FitzGerald