Don, as he was known to many, was a pioneer in medicine and cardiology in the Caribbean. He left a rich legacy as mentor, teacher, physician, family man, businessman, philanthropist, freemason and leader. He was a paragon of wit, wisdom and eloquence and his passing closes the final chapter in the life of an icon.
He was born in New York to Sydney Theophilus and Nora Eileen Christian. His father, an attorney, wanted the young Don to study law but Don Christian always had the ambition to be a doctor. He was influenced by a family physician in Antigua Dr. Luther Wynter. Don’s childhood was spent in Antigua and he excelled in school and at sports. He sat the Senior Cambridge Examinations and matriculated with distinctions in Mathematics, French, Latin and Chemistry. He was one of the select few to be admitted to the inaugural class to study medicine at the new University College of the West Indies (UCWI) in Mona, Kingston, Jamaica. There were eight hundred (800) applications for the thirty (30) places available. UCWI eventually accepted thirty-three (33) students to begin classes in October 1948. He arrived in Jamaica on September 28, 1948, at age eighteen (18) and disembarked the BWIA flight confidently bearing a tennis racket in one hand and a briefcase in the other.
The Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) programme was successfully completed in November 1954. Don Christian, reflecting on the early years at the University wrote “It was to be a great adventure and learning experience not only for UCWI personnel but for the people of Jamaica as well”. The beginning of the academic year October 1949 saw the first batch of medical students joined by the first students in the Faculty of Natural Sciences and in 1950 by students in the Faculty of General Arts. At this time, UWI was well on its way with its brightest and best young minds. They interacted in this crucible of learning, training and research, to apply the talents, which they acquired, to the further development of the islands of the West Indies.
The young Donald found both the medical training, as well as the social life on Campus, to be very stimulating and exciting. He interacted in the early days with the likes of young Sir Kenneth Standard, Gloria Knight, Sir John Golding, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott and the new additions to the medical faculty included to the young Sir George Alleyne and Knox Hagley. These are numbered among the many that served to elevate the status of UWI over the years.
After graduating in 1954, Don worked at the University Hospital in Mona then left for England to pursue postgraduate studies. He was the first graduate of UCWI to pass the exam for Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of London, which he did in 1960. He worked at the London Chest Hospital and there, was influenced by Dr. Ronald Gibson, to pursue a career in cardiology.
He returned to Jamaica and was appointed Senior Registrar in the Department of Medicine at the University Hospital in Kingston. One year later, he was appointed Lecturer in Medicine UWI and Consultant Physician at the University Hospital.
He was instrumental in the development and growth of cardiology in Jamaica. He worked for five (5) decades on the wards and clinics of the University Hospital. He was an excellent mentor and teacher. Professor Henry Fraser acted as his House Officer while a final year medical student in Mona and wrote about Don Christian “His positive character and generous spirit were an inspiration to me. He made an effort to remember students’ names and was always interested in their well being and ambitions. I learnt the importance of humor, positive thinking and thoughtful counseling, none of which were particularly prominent, in the teaching methods, of most of the teachers, at that time”.
Don was instrumental in providing equipment to the University Hospital to assist in diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases such as cardiac catheterization, electrocardiography, echocardiography, cardiac monitors and Holter monitors among others. In the 1970s, the Cardiology Unit was housed in a small cramped room called the ECG Department with little hope of expansion. Don Christian in conjunction with the Rotary Club of Kingston arranged for construction of a two storey Cardiology Unit which was opened in 1986. He worked in conjunction with several other pioneers to develop cardiology in Jamaica including Professor Kenneth Lamont Stewart, Dr. James Ling, Professor Michael Woo Ming, Professor Howard Spencer, Professor Charles Denbow and Dr. Keith McKenzie. His contribution was not limited to patient care, teaching and mentoring. He was a community-oriented person and also ran a successful private practice. He opened one of the top private medical laboratories in Jamaica, Caledonia Medical Laboratories.
He was a well-lettered man obtaining FRCP in 1975, FACP 1976, FACC 1987. He was a founding member and past president of the Caribbean Cardiac Society (1989-1992). He was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) in 1989 and became President of the MAJ in 1995. In August 1995, he received the National Honour from the Government of Jamaica being awarded the Order of Distinction in the Commander Class.
He was involved in insurance medicine and was medical advisor to several insurance companies in Jamaica for over forty (40) years. He was also a member of the Lions Club of Kingston and a longstanding member of the fraternity of freemasonry. He also ran a free clinic for underprivileged residents at the Gordon Town Clinic, in the hills of St. Andrew.
Don was a family man. He was married to his classmate Dr. Pamela Rogers in 1960. They had three (3) children, two (2) daughters Helen and Jennifer and a son Donald. He always spoke about his children with pride. Eventually, he spoke less of them and much more about his seven (7) grandchildren. When the marriage ended he received comfort and companionship from his significant other Hyacinth Davidson, a relationship that lasted for more than thirty-five (35) years until his death.
Don Christian recognized that in order to expand cardiology he needed to link with pioneers in cardiovascular health outside of the English-speaking Caribbean. He encouraged all cardiologists to attend and present papers at the Commonwealth Caribbean Medical Research meetings. Dr. Christian got to know Drs. Krone and Statius Van Epps of Curacao and he also influenced Dr. Yves Donatien of Martinique to join the Caribbean Cardiac Society, the latter becoming President. He also thought it important to expand the membership to Cuba and to Haiti but this did not materialize.
Don Christian also served on the Board at the University Hospital and is on record as being the longest serving Board Member. He was also instrumental in the resurrection of the Association Consultant Physicians of Jamaica (ACPJ) in 1995. He became president of the ACPJ in 2007.
He had a wonderful personality, a booming voice, a charming smile and infectious laughter. He was loved and admired by all. On the 1st of April 2015, that light which arose from the west in 1948, was slightly dimmed by the passing of Donald Edward Christian, one of its founding alumni, but we hope that the rich legacy, which he left behind will help to illuminate the institution which will shine brightly forever more. To Dr. Donald Edward Christian we say, we will miss you and may your soul rest in everlasting peace.
Prepared by M Mohammed, E-mail: email@example.com
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