Dr Michael Espir

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

BORN LON­DON, APRIL 1, 1926. DIED LON­DON, JULY 1, 2015, AGED 89

THE NEU­ROL­O­GIST Michael Espir was an ex­pert in the field of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and epilepsy, and his name is linked with re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion medicine. As prin­ci­pal med­i­cal of­fi­cer with the Civil Ser­vice Med­i­cal Ad­vi­sory Ser­vice, he was charged with de­vel­op­ing neu­ro­log­i­cal wards on a na­tional scale. He was par­tic­u­larly ac­tive in Derby, Not­ting­ham and Le­ices­ter Univer­sity hos­pi­tals, as con­sul­tant neu­rol­o­gist.

Fam­ily mem­bers in­sist that this “bril­liant, com­pas­sion­ate, true Bri­tish gen­tle­man” did not live by science alone. He be­lieved in the con­cept of fate and im­plied that “there is al­ways a rea­son for ev­ery­thing”. A de­voted fam­ily man and a dili­gent and at­ten­tive clin­i­cian, he was also a gifted cel­list.

Espir had wanted to be a doc­tor from the age of seven when he ac­ci­den­tally cut through his fin­gers with a penknife while try­ing to share a chocolate with his brother. The stitches on his fin­gers proved the cat­a­lyst that trans­formed the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple world­wide, who ben­e­fited from his re­search into epilepsy and mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

Evac­u­ated dur­ing the Sec­ond World War to Canada with his mother and sis­ter Anne, they crossed the At­lantic in the Duchess of Atholl, and de­spite his youth — he was only 14 — he was cho­sen to man one of the ship’s guns. An­other ship on a sim­i­lar jour­ney the fol­low­ing week was sunk by a U-boat with many ca­su­al­i­ties. He won a more aca­demic ac­co­lade by be­com­ing al­legedly the first per­son in the world to take the School Cer­tifi­cate, fore­run­ner to the GCSE, out­side the UK.

Dr Espir did his na­tional ser­vice in the Royal Army Med­i­cal Corps (RAMC) as Clin­i­cal Of­fi­cer to the Army Neu­ro­log­i­cal and Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis Menin­gi­tis Unit at Wheat­ley Mil­i­tary Hos­pi­tal, and the Head In­juries Cen­tre in Ox­ford. He also worked at Stoke Mandeville Hos­pi­tal in the spinal in­juries unit. Be­tween 1952-54 he was a ma­jor in the Royal Army Med­i­cal Corps.

One of three chil­dren born into a sec­u­lar Jewish fam­ily, Espir won a schol­ar­ship to Aldenham School and Trin­ity Hall Cam­bridge where he read medicine. The death in child­hood of his younger brother of a mys­te­ri­ous ill­ness fur­ther in­spired him to be­come a doc­tor and study the neu­ro­log­i­cal back­ground to that con­di­tion.

But in 1947 at Cam­bridge, aged 22, he was di­ag­nosed with po­lio, which

Dr Michael Espir: ex­pert in the fields of mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis and epilepsy caused mus­cle de­ple­tion in his legs and arms. By sheer strength of char­ac­ter he forced his mus­cles out of en­tropy and even­tu­ally re­turned to univer- sity to com­plete his ex­ams. He went on to the Mid­dle­sex Hos­pi­tal for his clin­i­cal stud­ies, qual­i­fy­ing in 1950 with a first in bio­chem­istry, and gained his MRCP in 1957. In 1958 he mar­ried Pa­tri­cia Smouha, grand­daugh­ter of Joseph Smouha, the noted Iraqi-Jewish cot­ton man­u­fac­turering mogul.

The post-war boost to neu­ro­log­i­cal clin­i­cal train­ing led to his de­vel­op­ing units in Le­ices­ter, Not­ting­ham and Derby. He re­turned to the Mid­dle­sex as house physi­cian and regis­trar and prac­tised oc­cu­pa­tional health in his role as prin­ci­pal med­i­cal of­fi­cer with the CSMAS be­tween 1979-1985. From 1986-1988 he was pres­i­dent of the Bri­tish branch of the In­ter­na­tional League Against Epilepsy, a keen in­ter­est of his. His in­flu­en­tial pa­per Epilepsy and Driv­ing, pub­lished in The Lancet, led to suf­fer­ers avoid­ing hav­ing to face a blan­ket ban on driv­ing, pro­vided their con­di­tion was con­trolled.

In 1983 Espir joined a DHSS work­ing group on Ser­vices for Peo­ple with Epilepsy, whose 1986 re­port led to im­proved care in this con­di­tion. He pub­lished pa­pers re­lat­ing to epilepsy and par­tic­i­pated in a study of the seizures suf­fered by mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis pa­tients. His wife, Pa­tri­cia, died in 1999, and in 2003 he mar­ried Va­lerie Van Straten, who sur­vives him, with the two sons and two daugh­ters from his first mar­riage, James, Ti­mothy, Ros­alind and Mar­ion, and 12 grand­chil­dren.

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