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Rare life-saving action man

The Age

Monday March 14, 2011

By MALCOLM BROWN and GERRY CARMAN

RUSSEL PARDOE, MBEPLASTIC SURGEON14-10-1932 16-2-2011RUSSEL Pardoe may have specialised as a plastic surgeon in reducing women's breasts and removing cysts from their buttocks in California but it was his initial surgery in Antarctica 50 years ago that won him a national honour and acclaim in Australia.Pardoe was 29 years old and freshly graduated in medicine with little surgical experience when he was confronted by the daunting task of performing brain surgery to save a fellow expeditioner's life at Australia's Mawson Base in Antarctica in 1961.Having never witnessed or participated in neurosurgery, he had to operate on a diesel mechanic, Allan Newman, who had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage and was facing certain death.Pardoe, who ironically has died of a brain tumour at Eureka, his adopted home town in northern California, aged 78, contacted a surgeon in Melbourne and, communicating by Morse code, was advised on what to do.He was required to fashion medical equipment out of dental tools and tested his technique first on a seal. He set about his surgery assisted by a cook and two geophysicists.Pardoe drilled through Newman's skull twice to relieve life-threatening pressure, then kept the critically ill man alive for two months before help arrived and his patient was flown 9600 kilometres to Sydney in a relay of Russian and American aircraft.The trip was completed in stages in forbidding weather and Pardoe stayed with his patient throughout. Newman, who was carried off the aircraft on a stretcher at Sydney Airport in January 1962, went on to make a full recovery.A reticent Pardoe was persuaded to do a lecture tour and talk about his experience, and when it was announced in 1963 that he had been awarded the MBE, he was enjoying a mountaineering trip in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.Pardoe was born in Brisbane to Leonard, an electrical engineer, and Mollie (nee Freeman), a nursing sister. After the family moved to Sydney, he grew up at Northbridge and was educated at Barker College, where he set a record in the shot put at a Combined Associated Schools event. He also distinguished himself in rugby.Pardoe attended Sydney University and continued playing rugby, but had to take two years off from study after suffering serious concussion. He filled in some of that time working as a labourer.During his undergraduate years he served with a reserve Australian Army unit, the 1st Commando Regiment, acquiring skills as a paratrooper, mountain climber and frogman. He also learnt to fly gliders and aircraft.Pardoe graduated in medicine and surgery in 1958 and did his year's residency at Royal North Shore Hospital. He worked in several countries, including New Guinea, and in 1961 went on the first of two assignments to the Antarctic.During a visit to the Snowy Mountains, he met Silvija Silic, then the youngest hospital matron in Australia.They married in 1966 and migrated to the United States, where they had four sons.In 1969, Pardoe did a year's residency at Roswell Park Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, New York, and in 1971 he completed his residency in plastic surgery at Stanford University, working in affiliated hospitals.He became an associate professor, and chief of the division of plastic surgery at Stanford, as well as the director of the burns unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Centre. He also participated in a program in Central America run by Interplast, a humanitarian organisation founded at Stanford University to provide free reconstructive surgery in developing countries, primarily to children with cleft lip and palate and burn scars. In 1979, Pardoe went into private practice as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and moved his family to Eureka. In time he would be joined in his surgery practice by his son, Mark.He acquired a reputation for expertise in treating burns. His son, Anton, said: "A doctor to his core, Russ was one of those rare caregivers who treasured his patients, whether they could compensate him or not. He was known to make house calls and would always go out of his way for his fellow physicians, no matter how tired he might be."A patient, Bob Welsh, said: "The first time he walked into the examination room, his poise, confidence and elegance instantly assured me I had nothing to fear. He was brilliant and entertaining and I always left the room wishing I could have spent more time with him."Pardoe was diagnosed with a glioblastoma multiforme brain tumour last year and his friend, Dr John Aryanpur, with whom he also shared office space, performed two difficult neurosurgerical operations that helped prolong his life.He had remained active and worked until struck by the aggressive tumour. Not even a hip replacement could stop him from trekking in the Trinity Alps in northern California, something he did 11 times.He is survived by his wife, Silvija, sons James, Mark, Anton and Stefan, four grandchildren and a younger brother, Anthony.

© 2011 The Age

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