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Hugh Owen Thomas (1834-1891)

Hugh Owen Thomas is widely regarded by many as great pioneer in British orthopaedic surgery.  He came from a family of bone-setters, whose origins lay on the island of Anglesey in North Wales, and whose secrets had been passed down from father to son for generations.  His father, Evan Thomas, moved to Liverpool at the age of 19 years and had acquired a good reputation in the city.  Unlike himself, he was determined that his son should receive a regular medical education and, as a result, Hugh was apprenticed to his uncle, Dr Owen Roberts at  St Asaph in North Wales for four years.  He later studied medicine in Edinburgh and University College London and qualified MRCS in 1857. He never served with any university lecturer nor was he ever appointed as a house surgeon.   He return to Liverpool to help his father, however, this working relationship failed and in 1859 he moved to a separate part of the city, setting up his own independent practice.  He spent most of his professional life in the slums of Liverpool treating the poor rather than the affluent Victorian middle classes.

In the treatment of tuberculosis and fractures, he strongly advocated the use of rest which should be 'enforced, uninterrupted and prolonged'.  His ideas were published in Diseases of the hip, knee and ankle joints, with there deformities treated by a new and efficient method (1857). This was against many of the principle of the day which often suggested excision or amputation for chronic bone disorders. In order to achieve rest and Immobilisation he invented several types of splints, with rigid steel bars,  that were manufactured in his own work shop by both a blacksmith and a saddler.  He also invented a wrench for the reduction of fractures and an osteoclast to break and reset bones. His contribution to the management of fractures was not widely recognised until after his death and in particular the onset of the First World War.  His nephew, Sir Robert Jones, introduced many of his uncles ideas to the surgical community.  Thanks to the use of the 'Thomas splint' the mortality of compound fractures of the femur fell from 80% in 1916 to less than 8% in 1918.

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