Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Pam Foreman-wife of the late Dr Bill Foreman

Dr Bill Foreman ( left) walking in the grounds of Sully hospital with Dr Len West

 Pam Foreman,  widow of Dr Bill Foreman, the hospital  superintendent at Sully

 offers some of her memories of Sully.

She recalls that surgeons practised open-heart surgery on sheep and afterwards sent them to one of the single wards kept for post-operative care in order to simulate as closely as possible the procedure intended for humans.

Such was the dedication of the surgeons and doctors that she recalls the wife of one surgeon saying that if she were a sheep she would see more of her husband.

Another  practise amongst those early pioneers of open heart surgery  was the procedure of lowering the body temperature to allow heart surgery to take place. This involved wrapping the patient in blankets then lowering him into a bath full of ice.

This gave the surgeons a six-minute window of opportunity to work on the heart.

Following the post-war period there were great medical advances made for the treatment of TB heralded by the discovery of streptomycin.

She recalls overhearing her husband discussing alternative drug regimes with another doctor:” If X doesn’t work let’s try Y…” then he added

 “ If this works then we could be doing ourselves out of a job.”

His prediction proved correct. For the new drug regime revolutionized the treatment of TB, which in turn led to surgeons retraining in heart surgery.

Even today former staff still speak with fondness of those far off days and the great family atmosphere engendered by Sully then at its height as a great model- hospital .

Some of that is due to the family atmosphere generated by Dr Bill Foreman, the unassuming hospital superintendent, from New Zealand, and helped by another Antipodean Dr Len West, from Australia.

Certainly Sully encouraged close contacts with doctors from Third World countries and many gained their qualifications in thoracic medicine there.

Sunday lunch at the Foreman’s for the foreign doctors was an established social event.
“Many had left their families behind and we offered then a bit of normality. They would play afterwards with our six children.”

On Christmas Day the Foreman children had to make sure all their presents were opened before 11 o clock because Dr Foreman had to go and carve the turkey for the patients.

On his return at three o’clock the Foreman family could then enjoy their own Christmas dinner.

Dr Foreman and Dr West (centre) with Sully doctors

Dr Foreman,  trained at the Brompton hospital in London, and he was appointed hospital superintendent at Sully in 1951.

 Aware of the isolation of Sully hospital from the rest of the community he recognized the need to introduce recreational facilities for the staff.

Through his foresight, energy and contacts with local charities Sully hospital got both a swimming pool and tennis courts for staff and radio and telephones in the wards for the patients.

He was awarded an MBE for his selfless work during the war helping the suffering of fellow POWs, a part of his life he rarely talked about.


  1. I was a radiographer in late 60s in Sully. Heart valve replacements were being carried out by Hugh Harley and Tom Rosser. In early 1970 Ian breckenridge arrived after spending a year in Birmingham Alabama to be the paediatric cardiac surgeon . An outstanding cardiologist L.G.Davies was a leading light there
    Roger Thomas

  2. Dr Harley performed a mitral valve replacement surgery on my late wife in January 1970. She survived for six years. Just prior to her demise in October 1976, she was sent to Guys Hospital, London by Dr L G Davies to be seen by Dr Donald Ross.

  3. 5 July 2018. I was a patient at Sully Hospital in the year 1952-53 age six.I had part of my lung removed,I believe my chances were very slim.I like to say a big thank you to Dr Bill Foreman;Dr Len West, and all the staff at the Hospital for my life.

  4. I also was a patient at Sully in 1959, aged 13 months. Where Dr Dillwyn Thomas performed hole in the heart surgery. The procedure was brought forward by a number of months due to the deterioration in my condition. However, due to the dedication, skills and care I received I survived and have led a completely normal life ever since. I too would like to thank all involved for enabling me to have a normal life.