DR CHRIS Day, who has helped save the lives of thousands of sick babies in Bradford during a career lasting more than 40 years, is set to retire at the end of this month.
The consultant neonatologist, originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, joined the NHS straight out of medical school in Leeds.
He was inspired to enter the NHS by his father who was a medical physicist at Newcastle General Hospital at “the dawn of radiotherapy” – the family having spent a year in America while he learned this ‘new’ form of treatment.
But it was also the circumstances around his own birth that fired his passion for neonatology which, as a specialism, was in its infancy when he himself was born 65 years ago.
Chris said: “My mother, when pregnant with me, had a condition called rhesus haemolytic disease and back in the day that resulted in the baby getting really anaemic, jaundiced with a real risk of dying with brain injury in the neonatal period.
“Treatment for this only developed in the 1950s. I was born in the 1956 and was treated in the Princess Mary Maternity Hospital, which was part of the Royal Victoria Infirmary and was ahead of its time. We were in the first few years for pioneering intensive care for babies at this time.
“I was in hospital for a couple of weeks and returned for a transfusion – thankfully it’s not a problem we see very often now as colleagues in maternity have worked out how to prevent it. I like to think that this spurred my interest and why I am a neonatologist.
“I had great dreams when I was young that I would become a doctor and cure the sick, but realised that was terribly naïve. I thought you could change the world by healing people but while you can’t change the world, you can change an individual baby’s world and I worked out it was possible to be my own kind of doctor and I found out what worked for me.”
One of three brothers, Chris left Heaton Comprehensive School to join Leeds University where he studied medicine from 1974-80.
He started work in the NHS in 1980 when he came to Bradford Teaching Hospitals as a foundation year doctor before going on to train at Airedale, Newcastle, Leeds and Sheffield hospitals as a paediatrician as back then, there was no such job title as a neonatologist.
In 1992, he secured his first post as a Consultant Paediatrician at Airedale General Hospital, before getting the opportunity to join Dr Sue Chatfield at the Bradford Royal Infirmary’s new neonatal unit. Drs Sunita Seal and Sam Oddie joined soon after and today the unit boasts eight consultants providing a hands-on, 24/7 service to the 550 it treats every year.
Chris added: “The neonatal unit service developed very significantly over the years to go on to become a regional unit serving the other hospitals of West Yorkshire. I quickly realised the service needed to be outlook-looking and got the post of clinical lead of Yorkshire Neonatal Network.
“Neonatology has become much more established, progressing from being part of paediatrics to becoming a speciality in its own right. Neonatal practice has become much better informed by research as well as technologically successful and demanding over that time.
“We’ve been continually learning how to look after our sickest babies and I am delighted to say that there’s been enormous and dramatic improvements in outcomes for our babies who now survive at much lower gestations than would have been possible 20 years ago, as well as for term babies born very sick who we now use therapeutic cooling to provide neuro-protection and improve outcomes.”
For Chris, who can sometimes be found reading books to our babies “when mums and dads aren’t around,” there are many highlights.
“Being part of a team that is so focused on caring for our babies – it’s the ultimate team sport!” he added.
“One of the things I am quite proud of is how we have been able to maintain parental involvement in their baby’s care during the pandemic and I’m very proud about how we have maintained care round the clock during this very stressful time.”
Likewise he says he will miss “the success of procedures,” adding: “When you do something for a baby and it works, neonatal medicine gives you very quick feedback. For example, when you resuscitate a baby and they improve, it gets you right in there (points to his heart). It’s an amazing feeling when you listen to the heart beat speed up and the baby starts going pink again.
“And then on the other side, when it doesn’t go well, there are very sad times. I want all babies to do well and when they don’t, it’s heart-breaking. The tragedies of sick babies are particularly wretched but you’ve got to have your heart in the job and there is vulnerability about the job, you can’t just have the joy without the sadness, that’s part of the whole business. Some people have their head in the job more but I couldn’t do it. It’s head and heart together. I was and remain an enthusiast of neonatal medicine to the end.”
In his retirement, which takes place at the end of this month, Chris already has a packed schedule to look forward to. He’s planning to continue to provide the higher specialist neonatal training programme called ‘Newborns Vietnam’ to Vietnamese neonatologists which he has contributed to for the past four years which takes place in Hanoi every January.
He’s also been asked to conduct clinical case reviews for the Ockenden inquiry which is looking into more than 1,800 cases of alleged poor care and baby deaths at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust.
A keen runner, Chris is also planning to run more two-day mountain marathons which his son and daughter often accompany him on. Chris officially leaves the Trust on May 31.
He concluded: “There are some really good people coming behind me in neonatology so I leave the unit in good hands. I know I will miss them more than they will miss me.”
Dr Ray Smith, Chief Medical Officer, said: “Huge thanks to Chris for everything he has done for the thousands of babies that have passed through his care throughout his 41 years at Bradford Royal Infirmary’s neonatal unit.
“He not only spent many years as clinical lead for the department but he’s also been responsible for creating the very best standards for the Yorkshire and Humber Neonatal Operational Delivery Network which includes 18 neonatal units in Yorkshire, North Derbyshire and Northern Lincolnshire.
“As he hangs up his stethoscope, he can be reassured that he will be most sincerely missed, not just by his colleagues but by the many families who remain grateful to him for the care he has given their ill and premature babies.”