|Professor Kenneth Cunningham Rankin OBE 1939-2011|
|Friday, 25 November 2011|
Stationed with the Royal Air Force in Alexandra, Egypt, George and Christina welcomed their second born, Kenneth in to the world on 22 January 1939. Kenneth therefore spent his first few years in Africa and it was perhaps this that generated his enduring attachment to this continent. Soon after their return to Edinburgh in 1942 via South Africa, Kenneth embarked on his school career. It was apparent early on that he had a bright mind and in his fourth year in secondary school he was transferred from Tynecastle High School to Boroughmuir High School in order to maximise his potential.
Apart from traditional academic study, he read widely and was particularly inspired by the accounts of the German medical missionary Albert Schweitzer’s experiences in Africa. With his practical skills honed by enthusiastic participation in the scout movement, a medical career beckoned. He obtained a place to study medicine at Edinburgh University and graduated in 1963. Early postgraduate training in Edinburgh included surgical posts which revealed his aptitude for this most practical of disciplines. His spare time was taken up with hillwalking and sailing with friends which became passionate lifetime pursuits. Travel was already in his blood and from 1964 to 1965 he spent time as a ship’s doctor on the Canberra, taking in Australia and other locations.
‘At work as often the sole orthopaedic consultant to a population of approximately 3 million, Kenneth mastered the wide scope of this specialty, including paediatrics, trauma, spine and lower limb arthroplasty’
In 1967, the lure of Africa was irresistible and he embarked as a medical doctor to the Sibasa rural hospital in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The following year he undertook work at Baragwanath Hospital, Soweto, but continued visits to rural areas as far afield as Lime Hill in KwaZulu-Natal. These trips were organised by the South African Council of Churches to provide medical attention to people who had been displaced by the apartheid regime and it was during this period that he met and fell in love with his wife, the journalist and political activist Joyce Sikakane. A secret engagement ensued, but due to the inhumane apartheid laws prohibiting interracial relationships, there was no possibility achieving matrimony in South Africa.
In 1969, they decided to leave the country separately and rejoin in a neighbouring state, however this reunion was markedly delayed due to the detention of Joyce by the apartheid regime to stand accused as part of the Trial of the Twenty-Two. For obvious reasons, contact between the two was lost and Kenneth travelled back to Scotland where he was Registrar in Orthopaedic Surgery at Bridge of Earn and Edinburgh before returning to Africa in 1971 to take up a Senior Registrar post in surgery and orthopaedics, followed by appointment as Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at the University Teaching Hospital of Lusaka in Zambia. Fortuitously a happy reunion with his fiancée ensued in 1973 during a chance meeting in Lusaka following Joyce’s release and subsequent exile from South Africa.
The lack of mountainous terrain in Zambia allowed Kenneth to turn his attention to an alternate hobby which afforded the enjoyment of attaining altitude. Again showing effective practical skills he gained a private pilot’s licence which was to be of more practical use in his later years as a flying doctor, for example with the Association of Surgeons of East Africa. The year 1974 saw a joyous marriage between Kenneth and Joyce in Lusaka attended by close friends. The happy couple returned to Scotland in 1975 for Kenneth to take up a lecturer post in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Edinburgh. During this period he worked with Professor J.I.P. James, not only learning further techniques but also contributing to the department from his experience in Africa. In 1977, a move to Dundee was on the cards to take up a senior lecturer post with a special interest in paediatric orthopaedics. By this time the family had expanded to consist of five boisterous children and a family home was established which remains to this day. During this time, Kenneth and Joyce were fully involved in the UK’s Anti-Apartheid movement, participating in fundraising events.
However, the call of Africa was constant and in 1980 Kenneth moved with his family to Mozambique, to support the struggle against apartheid. Work was intense at the Central Hospital in Maputo and Kenneth found that the massive volume of work could be brought under control to some degree by training doctors to perform a wide range of procedures and also by teaching healthcare workers to carry out specific skilled tasks such as the application of plaster casts. On weekends, private flying was not an option but the sea was close at hand, so Kenneth’s attention turned to his old university past time of sailing. The offer of a share of a catamaran was eagerly accepted and many an enjoyable afternoon was spent on the Indian Ocean. Due to pressure from the apartheid regime on families with links to the African National Congress (ANC) in Mozambique, Kenneth moved the family to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, arriving in 1982. This beautiful city brought Kenneth’s best features to the fore. At work as often the sole orthopaedic consultant to a population of approximately 3 million, he mastered the wide scope of this specialty, including paediatrics, trauma, spine and lower limb arthroplasty. In particular, he developed interests in spinal tuberculosis, club foot, acute and chronic osteomyelitis and open fractures- even designing and manufacturing the ‘Mpilo’ external fixator for local use. His practice extended outside of orthopaedics out of necessity due to lack of available expertise and during particularly busy periods he performed plastic surgery procedures for coverage of exposed bone and maxillofacial operations for trauma. Indeed, occasionally his skills were called upon by veterinary surgeons with a notable case featuring the reconstruction of a leopard’s forelimb.
A keen involvement with World Orthopaedic Concern (WOC) brought many visiting surgeons to enjoy the delights of Zimbabwe and all returned home enriched personally and professionally. Despite the pressures of work he maintained an enthusiastic interest in his hobbies, involving the family in sailing, walking and private flying. Indeed, the flying, facilitated by sponsorship from the Rotary Club, enabled Kenneth to visit remote communities to provide medical care. By 1992 most of the children were pursuing their careers and tertiary education in the UK and therefore Kenneth and Joyce returned to Scotland. Kenneth took a consultant post at Glasgow Royal Infirmary followed by a period at Law Hospital in Lanarkshire.
In 1995, Kenneth and Joyce excitedly returned south in anticipation of further contribution to a newly democratic, rainbow nation of South Africa. From 1996, Kenneth was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Orthopaedics at Kalafong Hospital, University of Pretoria. Again his varied competencies were evident with a practice encompassing paediatrics, spine and the full range of trauma management, but it was the organising of the training curricula at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels that exemplified his excellent teaching abilities. Other distinguished activities during the 1990s and beyond included the Lipmann Kessel Travelling Professorship to the Third World in 1993, election to the panel of examiners of The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, and numerous trips to several African universities as an external examiner.
In 2002, his peers recognised his immense contribution and he was duly awarded Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the New Year’s list for services to orthopaedics in Africa.
In the later years of his career Kenneth was to be found working in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa, providing further orthopaedic services to remote areas of great need and training many young doctors to competency in the management of trauma and emergency orthopaedics. He returned to the UK in 2009 and continued to work. In 2010, while in a locum post at the New Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh he was taken ill during an operating list. Acute myeloid leukaemia was the diagnosis, but he fought this with quiet determination gaining remission and returning to work in Dumfries later in the year. A relapse in January 2011 forced his retirement however he again battled hard, enduring more treatment and obtaining another remission. He lived in good spirits in anticipation of stem cell transplanting but succumbed suddenly to a haemorrhagic stroke on 3 July 2011. He is survived by his wife Joyce, five children, six grandchildren, a sister and one brother.