|30 Apr 2023
|Passing of friends
Dr Des Fernandes, friend and colleague of David Davies (1944G), who passed away at the age of 95 on 26 February 2023 sent us this beautifully written tribute
David Davies was the most distinguished gentleman and a plastic surgeon in South Africa and recently the the Chair of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at University of Cape Town, department of surgery, was named in his honour.
David Davies had an exciting childhood. He was born in London, July 16th 1927. His mother was a nurse and his father was a registrar in Surgery. His highly acclaimed father, David Stanley Davies became a fellow of the Edinburgh College of Surgeons and then emigrated to Persia (Iran) to practice medicine first in the Oil Fields and then as the medical doctor for the British Embassy in Teheran. That’s where David spent most of his childhood until 1941 when he was evacuated with his mother and his brother and sister and came to South Africa. I visited him on 16th December 2022 and he remembered that that day was his 81st anniversary of landing in Cape Town. He said he didn’t understand why people were looking at him until he realized he was wearing Plus 4 Golfing trousers. His father followed only in 1945 and decided to specialise in plastic surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital.
David was enrolled at Bishops Diocesan College in January 1942 and after matriculating he studied Medicine at the University of Cape Town. David graduated from UCT M.B.,Ch.B. in 1950 and followed his father into Plastic Surgery and as a registrar, he worked out the formula for his Z-plasty repair of the cleft lip. That brought him world fame with many surgeons using his simple and logical operation. He really had a lightening rise in Plastic surgery, not only because his father was a plastic surgeon but because he was a talented and enthusiastic surgeon.
He won the 1958 Cecil John Adams travelling prize and he went to UK and visited the plastic surgeons his father had introduced him to. He got his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (London) and married Petronella in 1959 and they remained together for 73 years and created a wonderful close family.
In 1960 David’s father retired and David took his position at Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH) part-time and started his practice in The Medical Centre, Adderley street, and then when Norman Petersen retired he became the part-time head of plastic surgery at GSH and Red Cross Hospital. In 1963, he with Miss Di Whiting, the speech therapist, created the first and only multidisciplinary clinic for cleft lip and palate on the African continent. Two seminal papers were published from the unit. The Davies Z-plasty, which was used for cleft lip repair, was published in the British Journal of Plastic Surgery, then the world’s leading plastic surgery journal. David also wrote an article for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (now the world’s leading plastic surgery journal) on the revolutionary one-stage repair for cleft lip and palate at 3 -6 months of age. This was a paradigm shift in cleft palate surgery that stunned people because in the rest of the world, they were repairing lips only at 6 months and then repairing the palate at 18months to 3 years. This brought David great renown, but some old-fashioned surgeons thought of him as a “cowboy” but his clinical results were amazing, almost unbelievable and the best in the world. This issue is still widely debated in the field of cleft care to this day. David went on to publish 50 articles in peer reviewed journals - the most from any plastic surgery unit until before the turn of the millenium.
David entered the field of Aesthetic surgery and did many presentations internationally. He was highly respected and became involved in international Plastic and Aesthetic surgery associations. By then he had become world renowned and known as “007” because of his resemblance to Roger Moore.
He, Bertie Binnewald and Fane Malherbe started the Shirnel Clinic (for Shirley the wife of a surgeon who helped to found the clinic, and Nel, David’s wife) in Medical Centre and that clinic is still functional today 60 years later, as The Cosmetic Surgery Institute. David was an exceptionally talented surgeon, but I believe, a “dangerous” teacher because he made everything look so simple. Surgeons would come and watch him then go home and realise how difficult it was to repeat the surgery by themselves. He was also a generous, and attentive, great teacher. We all loved this great Gentleman. I joined him in practice in 1980 and he was my most wonderful mentor. He remained absolutely lucid, knowledgeable and interested for the rest of his life, even though macula degeneration meant he could not read and hearing loss made it difficult to listen as attentively as he wanted to. He remained fascinated by art and history.
I last spoke to him on his last day of feeling well. He said some days he felt he was in the departure lounge whereas other days, he felt that reaching 100 was possible. The end came quickly with flu in February 2023.
David Davies' fame and legacy are commemorated in the full time chair of plastic, reconstructive and aesthetic surgery, and will remain so for as long as there is a University of Cape Town. Ave, David!
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