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Tributes paid to world renowned plastic surgeon and inventor of Bradford sling the late Professor David Sharpe


Prof David Sharpe with group at Valley Parade

Tributes have been paid to the late University of Bradford Professor David Sharpe OBE, who died yesterday (March 22) aged 77.

Professor Sharpe, the consultant plastic surgeon at Bradford at the time, led the surgical response to the Bradford City Football Club fire disaster at Valley Parade on May 11, 1985, which claimed the lives of 56 people and resulted in more than 250 people with burns, many of them life changing.

He organised the response to treat the burns injuries in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, conducting more than 20 operations in the first few hours. Many had burn injuries to their hands, which inspired him to invent the Bradford Sling, which revolutionised the management of hand injuries worldwide.

After the fire, he then founded the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit (PSBRU) a partnership between the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the Bradford Royal Infirmary and the Centre for Skin Sciences at the University of Bradford, making the city a pioneer in the field of burns research. This research unit (also known as the Bradford Burns Unit) is now internationally renowned and is recognised as one of the leading units of its kind in the country.

Professor Ajay L Mahajan, director of the PSBRU, said: "Today marks an end of an era for us. Although David had retired some time ago, he was still omnipresent. It is with great sadness that we have to come to terms with him not being with us anymore.

"To say that David was a legend in our world of plastic surgery would be an understatement. He was a highly skilled surgeon, a great personality and a mentor to hundreds of plastic surgery trainees over the years. He has trained and helped build careers for quite a few of us, all of whom will remember him forever with great fondness.

"David was the founding director of our Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit (PSBRU) and under his supervision we have conducted many research projects over the years. This work has been published and presented at various national and international meetings, which David was an integral part of.

"As much as we will miss his physical presence, he will always be in our memories, and we will continue to make his legacy proud though the work we do at our research unit."

Professor Julie Thornton, Director of the Centre for Skin Sciences, said: “This is a very sad day for our Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit (PSBRU). David Sharpe had a vision and passion for research in burns and scarring, that inspired dozens of young doctors to work in this field.

"I have known David for many years, and it was a privilege to work with him on such a vital area of scientific research that has important outcomes to improve the quality of life for people injured by burns. We will miss him immeasurably, but his legacy will live on through the Unit."

Professor Shirley Congdon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bradford, said: “Through his passion and determination, David has left a legacy not just for this city but to the world. It was his focus and drive that ultimately laid the foundations for our Centre for Skin Sciences. The impact of his work has been and will continue to be felt across the world.”

Professor Anne Graham, Head of School of Chemistry & Biosciences at the University of Bradford, said “Professor Sharpe’s long and active relationship with the university through the Plastic Surgery and Burns Unit charity has enabled research training and development of clinical research fellows, enhancing the skills of the next generation of plastic surgeons, one of whom I was lucky enough to co-supervise.

“His impact saved lives following the Bradford stadium fire disaster and the research has increased our understanding of how to reduce scarring and promote healing of burns. My thoughts are with his family at this sad time.”

Professor Sharpe was awarded a Doctor of Science from the University of Bradford in 2011 for his work as an honorary professor at the university, and as the Clinical Director of the PSBRU from its inception. He retired in 2014, after a career in plastic surgery spanning 40 years.

City’s chief executive officer of Bradford City AFC, Ryan Sparks, said: “On behalf of everyone at Bradford City AFC, I would like to offer our sincere condolences to Professor Sharpe’s loved ones at this difficult time. He played a vital role in the lives of so many people following the Valley Parade Fire Disaster, and helped hundreds recover from the tragedy.

“It was an exceptionally difficult period for our football club, and the research unit he founded - and work he did - has gone on to help thousands of others across the world since. He leaves behind a wonderful legacy, and will be forever remembered by everyone connected to our club.”

More about the PSBRU

Today, the PSBRU is led by the Clinical Director, Professor Ajay L Mahajan, Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Bradford Teaching Hospitals, who along with his collaborators and research fellows carries out research activities at the University of Bradford.

Burn injuries and accidents result in patients being literally scarred for life. Research activities at the PSBRU helps looks at various ways in which wound healing and scarring can be improved to deliver the best possible outcome for our patients.

It is this research that provides the evidence for practising evidence-based medicine. Research lays down a strong foundation for young doctors who set out to pursue a career in plastic surgery and encourages them to embark on innovative research projects.

The PSBRU has had 30 research fellows over the years, most of whom are established consultants in the various parts of the UK.

The benefits of the Unit's work thus spread well beyond Bradford. The advances it makes in medical knowledge and clinical technique are available for use by clinicians everywhere, and nearly all of the Unit's Research Fellows have gone on to practise as consultant surgeons, improving lives both in the UK and around the world.

The infrastructure for the work of the PSBRU is provided by the University of Bradford, where it is attached to the Centre for Skin Sciences. This provision covers laboratory accommodation, academic supervision, administration and professional support.

The activity of the PSBRU depends directly on donations from the public, who have supported the Unit so generously over the years. The PSBRU is operated as a separate cost centre within the University, which means that every donation yields an immediate gain to the resources of the Unit.