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Tributes paid to ‘giant’ of anaesthesia

8 November 2018

Bill Mapleson

Tributes have been paid to pioneering anaesthetist Professor William Mapleson, who has died at the age of 92.

Known to friends and colleagues universally as Bill, Professor Mapleson led a distinguished academic career at Cardiff University School of Medicine – working in academic anaesthesia for more than 60 years.

He remained an active researcher into his 90s.

Professor Mapleson, who was born in London, was described by colleagues as one of the foremost anaesthetics researchers of his generation.

Judith Hall, Professor of Anaesthetics, Intensive Care and Pain Medicine at Cardiff University, said: “I am proud to have called this brilliant scientist both a colleague and a friend.

His wide-ranging contribution made him renowned in his field and he will be hugely missed by so many people. He will also be remembered for the unstinting help and support that he offered colleagues.

Professor Judith Hall Professor of Anaesthetics, Intensive Care and Pain Medicine. Phoenix Project Lead

Professor Mapleson’s illustrious career at Cardiff started inauspiciously when he decided to acquire “interviewing experience” by applying for a post in the anaesthetics department in 1952.

On being offered the role, he wrote to his new employers stating that he believed he would get five years’ experience in the job. He remained for six decades.

Professor Mapleson cemented his reputation as early as 1954 by classifying breathing systems, known as Mapleson Breathing Systems, for supplying oxygen and anaesthetic gases – and removing carbon dioxide - during anaesthesia.

He named the breathing circuits A, B, C, D, E and F, and in self-effacing style remarked: "I became the first person in anaesthesia to make his reputation on the strength of his knowledge of the alphabet!”

Professor Mapleson went on to make a huge contribution to the science of anaesthesia, publishing more than 100 research papers and other publications.

His main research interests were in the movement of drugs around the body in relation to inhaled anaesthetics and the functioning of automatic lung ventilators.

Professor Mapleson was a founder member of the Anaesthetic Research Society in 1958 and missed only a handful of meetings over many decades.

He received many awards during his long career including the Association of Anaesthetists’ Sir Ivan Magil Gold medal in 2002. He is one of only seven recipients of this honour which is granted for uniquely outstanding innovative contributions to the specialty of anaesthesia.

In 2014 the University’s cutting edge medical innovation and clinical education centre opened in the Cynon Valley and was named the Bill Mapleson Centre.

Professor Mapleson said at the time: “It’s really quite something to have a centre named after you.

“My career has been an extraordinary affair, summed up on the basis that I’ve led a sort of charmed life.

“I’ve been able to do research and be paid for it, which is my hobby as much as my work, and so an ideal situation.”

Watch the 2014 Bill Mapleson Centre launch film