I was born in Johannesburg in November 1937. I spent my first eight years in Brakpan, on the East Rand, where I attended Livingstone Primary School. In 1945, at the age of eight, I was introduced to Paediatric Surgery when Josh Lannon removed my appendix! We moved to Johannesburg in 1946, continuing my primary school education at Fairmount School. In 1950 I moved to Highlands North High School, matriculating in 1954. Seven of our matriculation class entered Wits Medical School together in 1955.
Like most of us I spent six fantastic years at Wits. Despite the intensity of the course, there was sufficient time for extra-curricular activities, including sport, parties, politics, occasional pranks and of course courting.
Our ‘firm’ at graduation on the steps of the great hall: Back Row: Len Kahn, Gerald Lampert, Gary Katz, Front: Aubrey Milunsky and Farrell Sims. (The sixth member of our firm, Dennis Rossouw, was probably taking the picture.)
My interest in Medicine, and in particular Paediatrics, started in 1953 when my younger brother was admitted to Transvaal Memorial Hospital (TMH) following major trauma, undergoing several operations. Inpatient visiting was very restricted in those days. As I travelled home the wailing of little children, abruptly separated from their parents, rang in my ears. Without knowledge of the psycho-social aspects of Paediatrics, I instinctively felt there must be better ways to care for children in hospital.
As a student, my ambition to become a Paediatrician was enhanced by several inspiring Paediatricians at Baragwanath and TMH. I graduated in December 1960. Prior to starting my house jobs at Coronation Hospital, I worked as a Paediatric locum at Baragwanath. It was like jumping in at the deep end, but the clinical experience was immense; a month at ‘Bara’ was like 6 months elsewhere. By force of circumstances, many of the mothers stayed in the hospital to look after their ill children and without their visiting being restricted, sudden separation wasn’t an issue.
During my final year, my wife (to be) Karen Kirsch (seen above with me at graduation) and I decided that after I completed my house jobs, we would travel and work abroad and experience living conditions in the UK, USA and Israel, before returning to South Africa, where we would finalise our long term plans. While working at Coronation, I sat the ECFMG exams. When I received the results, I decided to apply for a Paediatric Residency in the States.
We married in June 1960 and set sail from Cape Town on the Edinburgh Castle on 19 January 1962. When we arrived in London a letter was waiting for me. It contained an offer for a 3-year Paediatric Residency at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn (now Brookdale Hospital) starting on July 1st. After a spell of intense touring in and around London, we worked in Windsor for a month. We then travelled for almost three months in a second-hand Mini through France, Italy, Switzerland and Denmark, where we parked our car, while travelling by train and boat through Sweden and Norway. After a few weeks we collected our car in Copenhagen and made our way back to London via Holland and Belgium.
A week later we sailed on a decrepit SS Aurelia from Plymouth to New York. As we had not at that stage planned to emigrate from SA, we went on Exchange Visitors Visas, which were valid for five years. If we wanted to stay permanently in the USA, we would have had to leave for two years before returning.
Although the experience I gained at the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn was useful, a year there was sufficient. We decided that if we wanted to stay permanently in the States, it would make sense to leave for two years before returning to complete my training at a hospital with an international reputation. During the year I visited Paediatric centres of excellence in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. While in the States we travelled extensively for $99.00 each on the Greyhound Buses. The tickets were valid for 99 days, but we had to make do with far fewer days on the road.
We returned to London in July 1963 on the next stage of our grand tour. My first substantive Paediatric post was as an SHO for one year at Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children in Carshalton, Surrey. While there I passed the DCH exam and started studying for the London MRCP. As this examination was geared towards General Medicine, I switched in October 1964 to a House Officer post in General Medicine at Chase Farm Hospital in Enfield, North London. I passed the MRCP examination in July1965. I was ready to resume my Paediatric journey
I was appointed to a two-year rotation, spending one year as a Registrar at the London Hospital and the second year as a Neonatal Research Fellow in the Physiology Dept of the London Hospital Medical College, under the supervision of Prof Kenneth Cross and Dr Edmund Hey. I was involved in the study of temperature control in neonates. This formed the basis of my MD thesis on “The role of evaporative water loss and vasomotor activity in temperature regulation of the newborn”. By the time I was appointed to this post we had an 18-month-old daughter and a second child on the way and we had decided London was our final destination.
Towards the end of my research year, I was appointed as a Senior Registrar on the University College Hospital (UCH) – Whittington Hospital rotation. I had the good fortune to train under three great Paediatricians/Neonatologists. At UCH, my ‘mentors’ were Prof Leonard Strang and Dr (later Prof) Osmund Reynolds, who revolutionised Intensive Neonatal Intensive Care in the UK. Prof Strang had trained in Newcastle under Prof James Spence, a pioneer of Social Paediatrics. The importance of parents on a children’s ward all day was second nature to Leonard. The wailing I heard of young children as their family left a ward 14 years earlier, wasn’t something I had to worry about. At the Whittington Hospital one of the Consultants was Dr Sam Yudkin, who was also a James Spence admirer and a great source of inspiration.
During my Senior Registrar rotation, I used my ‘spare’ time to complete the research for my MD, which I submitted in 1971. I was awarded my MD in December 1971. Early in 1972, I was asked to present my work at TMH. I learned to my surprise that I was the first Wits Paediatrician to be awarded an MD.
While doing my Senior Registrar rotation, I debated (mainly with myself) whether to pursue an academic career or to follow a clinical path. I eventually decided to apply for a clinical post and I was appointed as a Consultant Paediatrician at Edgware and Barnet Hospitals, in conjunction with an Honorary Senior Lectureship at University College Medical School, with a responsibility for medical student teaching. With this I maintained my link with UCH and did part-time research with Dr Jean Smellie, who had a special interest in recurrent urinary tract infections and vescico-ureteric reflux. In 1979 I was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians.
During my appointment at Edgware and Barnet, I was responsible for the development of a highly regarded Paediatric Service and a Sub-regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Edgware. In 1997 the two hospitals merged, and we moved the Paediatric and Neonatal Services to Barnet. By then we had full-time Neonatologists in post and the ‘old chap’ carried on with General Paediatrics.
In 1996 I was appointed as the North West Thames Regional Advisor in Paediatrics, with responsibility for Paediatric Training. The training in all specialities was undergoing major changes nationally. With three colleagues, I was responsible for implementing a new training programme involving every Paediatric Department in London and its surroundings.
At that time the British Paediatric Association (BPA) was housed in the grounds of the Royal College of Physicians. After pressing for many years, a ‘Royal Charter’ was granted in 1996, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health was created. Paediatricians at long last had a much stronger voice to promote the needs of babies, young children, adolescents and their families. All Paediatric Consultants in the UK became Fellows of the new college.
I retired from the NHS in December 2002 ( Retirement at 65 was compulsory at that time) My colleagues organised a Festschrift at the Royal College of Obstetrics to celebrate my 40 years in Paediatrics and the role I had played in the development of Paediatrics in North London. I continued in Private Practice until June 2013.
Time has flown since then. I enjoy art exhibitions and the theatre. Hopefully they’ll once again become part and parcel of London life when Covid is eventually conquered. I normally try to keep fit by going to a nearby gym/swimming pool 4 times a week. During lockdown I’ve switched to walking and gardening! Thanks to the major advances of Medicine since we graduated, I have survived Prostatic Cancer, Septic Shock and severe mitral incompetence (Barlow’s Disease!) and am delighted to be able to tell my tale.
My wife, Karen, after completing her BA at Wits, went to Teacher’s Training College, in view of our overseas plans. She taught in New York and England. Once our fourth child started Nursery School, Karen resumed her studies. After passing the London University exams in Social Policy and Psychology, she trained in Social Work at the London School of Economics and subsequently as a Child Psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic.
We are fortunate that all our children live in London. Our eldest daughter, Andrea, read Psychology and trained as a Child Psychotherapist; our eldest son, Laurence, who read Economics is a lawyer. Our second son, Jonathan is a Consultant Endocrinologist and Diabetologist and our second daughter, Felicity is a Consultant Paediatrician.
Gary and Karen Katz with their eight grandchildren.
We have eight grandchildren ranging in age from 11 to 22. I am privileged to have had another opportunity to observe and enjoy the thrills of child development at close hand.
Biography and pictures contributed by
Gary Katz MD FRCP FRCPCH DCH London, July 2020