Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Bloomsbury doctors pioneer plastic surgery to rebuild nose

Jayne Hyslop's account of her x3 grandmother, Sarah Green, a domestic servant in a house in Russell Square (1841), mentioned a Dr Henry S Roots who lived in the house next door. This was intriguing as one of the purposes of the Bloomsbury Project is to discover information about the medical and scientific practitioners who lived and worked in the area.

Henry S Roots is probably Henry Shuckburgh Roots (1785-1861). In 1823, Dr Roots was a physician at the St Pancras Infirmary in King's Road, St Pancras (now St Pancras Way), a 20-minute walk from Russell Square. On 19th September of that year, Roots examined a 40-year-old shoemaker named Mr Capon, who was described as 'a most hideous object' because of a gaping hole in his face where his nose and mouth had once been. The unfortunate man had had syphilis and been treated with mercury. The dreadful disfigurement was a result of both the treatment and the infection which destroyed the tissue and cartilage of his face and which he was obliged to cover with a handkerchief. Since his palate had also been destroyed, his speech was barely articulate.

An operation - one of the first of its kind - to repair the defect, was carried out by a Dr John Davies (1796-1872), who had a practice at 189 Tottenham Court Road. No doubt Dr Roots was present when the patient was made to sit on a chair with his face towards the window so that the surgeon could operate with the maximum light. This was more than twenty years before the discovery of anaesthesia so Mr Capon would have been held fast by a number of assistants. The description of the operation can be read here. It appears to have been successful and Mr Capon was still alive the following year.

The picture above shows the type of facial deformity caused by syphilis for which there was no successful treatment until the discovery of the arsenical compound, Salvarsan, in the early 20th century, followed by the antibiotic penicillin in the 1940s.
In searching the web for more information about Dr Henry Shuckburgh Roots, I came across a post by Brian Shuckburgh (2002) also searching for connections to his ancestors. I hope Brian finds this blog. Apparently, Henry's father, George Roots, of Kingston Surrey, was also a doctor. He married Anne Shuckburgh in 1772 at Twickenham, Middlesex, and they had at least two children, Henry and William.