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BMJ. 2007 June 23; 334(7607): 1327.
PMCID: PMC1895654

Charles Alan Blake Clemetson

Charles Alan Blake Clemetson (“Alan”) was born in Canterbury, England, on 31 October 1923 and went to preparatory school—Wootton Court, Wootton, Kent—from 1930 to 1935 and later to King's School, Canterbury, from 1935 to 1942.

His preclinical studies were in Magdalen College, Oxford, from 1942 to 1944. He then went to the Radcliffe Infirmary from 1944 to 1947, where he qualified BM, BCh in January 1948. While at Oxford he rowed for his college, becoming head of the river one year. He and all on that skull received their oars, of which he was very proud.

Alan met Helen Cowan Forster, a physiotherapist, and who became his wife on the 29 March 1947. They had their first of four children in December 1948 in Oxford.

He was a house surgeon in general surgery at Radcliffe Infirmary from January 1948 to June 1948 under Mr Corry and later that year joined the Royal Air Force as a medical officer until June 1950.

Awarded the degree MA from Oxford University in 1950, he was research assistant at the Obstetric Hospital, University College Hospital, London, under Professor W C W Nixon, doing research into pre-eclamptic toxaemia as a Nichols research fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine from 1951 to 1952.

From 1953 to 1954 he was a house surgeon, gynaecology, in Hammersmith Hospital and later became obstetrical and gynaecological registrar at Lake Hospital, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, for two years from 1954 to 1956.

In 1956 he became a lecturer in obstetrics and gynaecology at University College Hospital, London, for two years and obtained the membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 1957. At UCH he taught Dr Roger Bannister at one time and was very proud of the 4 minute mile that Roger ran. His daughter recalls: “A green budgie flew into the operating room once and Dad caught it and brought it home as a present for us. He said he had jumped very high, many floors, to catch it.” We guess he couldn't let his world famous student have all the glory.

He moved to Canada in 1958 as assistant professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University Hospital, Saskatoon, Canada, with Professor A B Brown and obtained the Canadian certification in obstetrics and gynaecology, FRCS (C), in 1959.

He started his work on Vitamin C here. He went on “a one man expedition to the Arctic.” The plane dropped him off in the middle of the white tundra with no habitation in sight. Later a caterpillar tread vehicle came and took him to Rankin Inlet off the Hudson Bay. He was there for about a week studying the capillary strength of the Inuit. To his surprise it was very good, from raw fish, he surmised.

In 1961 he was appointed assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California Medical School in San Francisco. He created a board of medical professionals who lobbied for abortion in times of dire distress to the mother, and they were able to change the law of the state. Some 15-17 years later studies showed far less crime and civil unrest in that same 15-17 age group.

In 1967 he was appointed director of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Methodist Hospital, Brooklyn, New York, and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Downstate Medical Center of the State University of New York, Brooklyn, New York, from 1967 to 1972.

He became chairman, Committee on Government Relations, District II, of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 1973 and president, Brooklyn Gynecological Society in 1977. In 1980 he was awarded a fellowship of the American College of Nutrition and shortly thereafter was professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1981-90.

Alan was professor emeritus, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana, from 1991. He continued working in a private capacity and writing on his favourite topic: the role of Vitamin C in the condition popularly known as the shaken baby syndrome.

Then Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Alan had a live-in carer with a brother in law in the Met office who told them to get out. They were across the Lake Ponchatrain Bridge the day before it was washed away. He stayed in Houston for nearly a year while the family tried to get the house back in some kind of order, which they finally did five weeks before he died of heart failure.

His legacy to medicine is the condition, known to those that understood his work, as the Clemetson/Kalokerios syndrome. It results from a precipitous fall of serum ascorbic acid and malignant histaminaemia following routine paediatric inoculations, particularly in the presence of infection and malnutrition.

He advocated administering 500 mg of vitamin C powder or crystals, in fruit juice, to infants before they are vaccinated and suggested reducing the number of vaccines given at any one time, particularly if the infant was premature or off colour. Ascorbic acid could be given safely by injection if necessary.

He believed the shaken baby syndrome is a manifestation of Barlow's disease that is induced by maternal malnutrition and infection and in the infant by recurrent infections and recent multiple vaccinations. The associated retinal and intracranial haemorrhages are therefore manifestations of vascular fragility secondary to relative vitamin C deficiency and not the result of inflicted trauma.

An original thinker, Alan was never afraid of controversy. Currently an increasing number of experts in the field believe that the shaken baby syndrome should be renamed the Clemetson/Kalokerinos syndrome—regrettably he did not live to see this happen.

Alan authored a three volume work on Vitamin C and noted that while frank scurvy is rare nowadays, subclinical vitamin C deficiency is comparatively common and often associated with raised blood histamine concentrations.

He is survived by a daughter and two sons, one a doctor, and six grandchildren, one of whom is also a doctor.


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