Reporter 422, 8 June 1998

Professor David Johnston

After achieving the gold medal at Hamilton Academy in 1953, David Johnston read French, Latin and Mathematics as Glasgow University but then switched to medicine to graduate in 1960 with honours, a distinction in surgery and the Brunton Prize for Best Student. He worked initially in Glasgow for Professor Stanley Alstead, Professor Sir Charles Illingworth and Professor Roland Barnes, before migrating South to Leeds in 1962 as Research Fellow, and subsequently Honorary Registrar, to Professor J C Goligher in the Department of Surgery. David left Leeds in 1965 to become Lecturer with Professor Sir Herbert Duthie in Sheffield, but returned in 1968 as Senior Lecturer in Surgery, and Honorary Consultant Surgeon at the General Infirmary, and subsequently Reader in Surgery. Once more David left Leeds, in 1975, to take the post of Professor of Surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, but once again the magnetic attraction of Leeds prompted his return to the Chair of Surgery at the General Infirmary on the retirement of Professor Goligher, in 1977.

David Johnston, like other distinguished surgical academics from the “Glasgow school” is a physiologist of international renown, and he has published widely on many aspects of gastric and intestinal function. In his research and clinical practice he has constantly embraced the principle that the surgeon is a practicing physiologist who must respect, and wherever possible preserve the delicate mechanisms that control body function. The application of this concept led, in 1969, to the development of highly selective vagotomy, a new operation for duodenal ulceration which preserved intact the stomach, and the pyloric sphincter guarding the entrance to the duodenum. This operation became the globally accepted standard treatment for duodenal ulceration until developments in microbiology and pharmacology superseded it. On his return to Leeds as a Professor of Surgery, David Johnston applied similar principles to the lower part of the gastro-intestinal tract and did much to develop operations for ulcerative colitis that obviated the need for an ileostomy. More recently he has applied his deep insight and understanding of gastric physiology to the treatment of morbid obesity, with the development of the “Magenstrasse and Mill” operation. In his clinical practice in Leeds he is constantly confronted by patients with gastric cancer. Ever the iconoclast, he refused to accept the miserable results of surgery for gastric cancer in the western world. By the careful application of Japanese surgical techniques he has been able to achieve survival rates for patients with gastric cancer which are unequaled, even in Japan.

David is a surgical leader who has stimulated a whole generation of surgeons to use the brain as their sharpest instrument. He has been a very prominent teacher nationally and internationally and he is an authoritative and gifted lecturer. He is an honorary member of the French Academy of Surgery and the Swiss Society of Gastroenterology, and a Foundation Fellow of the Australasian College of Surgeons.

With a distinguished academic career and about 200 publications, a very busy surgical practice and six children, the youngest of whom, Cameron, is only 7 years old, it would be surprising if there was time in his life for other activities. Nevertheless, he has always been a very keen runner since his time at Glasgow University where he was captain of the cross country team and ran for the Scottish Universities. Since then he has run in 13 consecutive London marathons up to 1996, achieving a best time of 2 hours and 59 minutes. He is also an avid reader and a keen trout fisherman.

The medical tradition continues in David Johnston’s family, his son Robert being a specialist registrar in ophthalmology and his daughter Rosalind a senior house officer in accident and emergency medicine. David is ably supported by his wife Maureen, herself a consultant physician at the General Infirmary, and we wish them every happiness in the future.

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