Edye, Sir Benjamin

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MB 1910 MSurgery 1913 FRCS

Sir Benjamin Edye was the first Australian surgeon to carry out what we would now call ‘elective’ cardiac surgery.

Ben Edye was born in Orange, NSW. He graduated from Medicine at the University of Sydney in 1910 and took up a residency as a Medical Officer at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, being promoted to Senior Medical Officer by 1912. A year later Ben completed his Master of Surgery in our Faculty and added to his workload by becoming a demonstrator in Pathology. On the advice of Alexander McCormick, he went to England to study and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

During World War I, he served as Captain with the Australian Voluntary Hospital in Wimereux, France, later becoming Captain within the 56th Division and the 41st Casualty Clearing Station. He returned to Australia in 1918 to continue his work in Pathology as well as assisting Alexander MacCormick in his private practice.

From 1920 to 1927, he was Honorary Assistant Surgeon at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital also becoming Honorary Assistant Surgeon at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney in 1923. When Dr Moran resigned in 1924, Ben was promoted to the senior role of Honorary Surgeon, in which he remained until he resigned in 1928. From that time, he ceased his other commitments to take up the appointment of Acting Professor of Surgery at the University of Sydney, a role which obliged him to work exclusively at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. A historian of St Vincent’s hospital makes the following observations of Ben:

He had a quiet manner, was patient and considerate. He had acquired much of MacCormick’s technique and was a cautious and sound operator. His methods and personality always appealed to the resident medical officers, with whom he was the popular consultant… After this, though well in his 40s, he found himself for the first time swamped by a large and widely scattered general surgical practice. He became a leader and pioneer, being the first in Sydney to ligate a patent ductus arteriosus, the initial step in cardio-vascular surgery.[1]

In 1936, he continued his studies in thoracic and plastic surgery in both Europe and USA.

After more active service in the World War II, Ben returned to Australia to work at Royal North Shore Hospital in Bruce Collard’s clinic, which was specifically devoted to the study of congenital heart disease. Gaston Bauer gives Ben credit for performing the first ‘elective cardiac surgery’ in Australia in 1943 at Royal North Shore Hospital when:

[he] successfully operated on a six year old girl suffering from a patent ductus arteriosus… Ten of the 14 patients with patent ductus arteriosus, operated on by Ben Edye and M P Susman[1] made an excellent recovery, a very creditable result given that the operations were performed before the days of organized cardiac surgical teams, modern anaesthesia, trained resuscitative teams and effective antibiotics.[1]

Ben continued to work in various capacities within other hospitals across Sydney such as St George, Manly and Ryde. From 1949 to 1959, he was President of the New South Wales Medical Defence Union Ltd and also co-founded the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1949. Sir Benjamin Edye was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1957 and was knighted (KBE) in 1958 for his services to medicine.[1]

Citation: Mellor, Lise (2008) Edye, Sir Benjamin. Faculty of Medicine Online Museum and Archive, University of Sydney.

An alternate version appears in: Mellor, L. 150 Years, 150 Firsts: The People of the Faculty of Medicine (2006) Sydney, Sydney University Press.