A matter of patients
As the Royal Arch marks its two-hundredth anniversary in 2013, Sophie Radice looks at how members and the chapters have been supporting the Royal College of Surgeons in groundbreaking medical research
At the Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science in London, William Dawes is trying to find out how to lessen the damage done to premature newborn babies who have suffered a stroke. Part of the surgical research fellowships scheme run by the Royal College of Surgeons, Dawes is just one of the medical pioneers in the UK whose work has been funded by Freemasons.
From investigating how to prevent acute kidney injury during major heart surgery through to exploring how to decrease mortality rates following traumatic brain injury, the fellowships scheme will be benefitting from financial support given by the Royal Arch Masons 2013 Bicentenary Appeal. The fundraising exercise aims to provide a permanent reminder of the Supreme Grand Chapter’s full emergence two hundred years ago by its future relationship with the Royal College of Surgeons.
‘Schemes such as the surgical research fellowship are invaluable for surgeons,’ says Dawes, who is also being supported by Sparks, the children’s medical charity. ‘The research we have been funded for will look at ways of lessening the damage done to the brains of premature newborns who have bleeding into the ventricles of the brain. Our focus is a collection of tiny, fragile blood vessels in the germinal matrix, which is the area of brain adjacent to the wall of the ventricles. These blood vessels are vulnerable to fluctuations in blood flow, which can cause them to rupture and bleed. The younger and smaller the baby, the higher the risk. Our research will look at ways of making the cells that survive the bleed perform better so that the damage will be minimised.’
Providing crucial support
Dawes trained in Leeds and then Liverpool before moving to London, and is now at the Blizard Institute, Barts and the London School of Medicine doing a PhD. ‘I knew very little about Freemasons until I discovered how much money they give to surgical research. I have since given presentations to chapters and have found the Freemasons I’ve met to be so supportive. It has been a real pleasure to speak to them about what we are trying to do – we are extremely grateful for their generosity,’ he says.
The Royal College of Surgeons launched the surgical research fellowships scheme to enable the brightest and best surgeons of each generation to explore treatments for conditions and injuries that affect millions of people worldwide. The scheme relies completely on voluntary donations from individuals, trusts and legacies, and needs more funding to continue the number of worthy research projects supported.
George Francis, Second Grand Principal of the Royal Arch Masons and Chairman of the appeal, explains: ‘In 1966, the Eleventh Earl of Scarbrough, as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, launched an appeal to mark the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Grand Lodge in 1717. The income from the appeal was given to the Royal College of Surgeons. We are so proud of our contribution to surgical research that it seemed natural that our 2013 Bicentenary Appeal should go into funding more research. We hope to raise well over £1,000,000.’
Professor Derek Alderson, Chairman of the Academic and Research Board at the Royal College of Surgeons, adds: ‘We feel it important that donors should understand exactly what is being done with their money, so in the past twelve months research fellows, supported by officers of the College, have made more than forty presentations to a variety of masonic bodies. We never have any problems finding young surgeons to talk about their research, but I suspect that this says more about masonic hospitality than anything else.’
Like William Dawes, Nishith Patel and Angelos Kolias have made presentations to chapters throughout the UK to discuss their vital research work
Bodies of work
Research Title: Acute kidney injury following heart surgery
Location: Bristol Heart Institute, Bristol Royal Infirmary
‘I first heard about the fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons and I jumped at the chance to apply. It is very competitive, with a four-part application process, because so many surgeons want the chance to kick-start vital research in their surgical area.
‘We are looking at the way two different methods can prevent acute kidney injury during major heart surgery. The first method is a drug trial and the second is to put the blood through an automated washer during surgery to prevent organ injury. We looked at the blood used in blood transfusions and found that some of it had gone off because it had been stored too long. Putting blood through an automated washer to remove toxins could be very useful for all those who need blood transfusions and so that has become part of our research too.
‘I was surprised that the Freemasons funded these fellowships because I knew very little about them.
I have since given presentations to small groups of Freemasons and found that they not only asked very detailed and intelligent questions but that they also seem to really appreciate and understand our work when we explain it to them.
I have found the Freemasons to be very decent and down-to-earth people who are open to hearing complex medical explanations, which is very refreshing. I so appreciate the opportunity they have given me.’
Research Title: Traumatic brain injury: the role of veins
Location: Addenbrooke’s Hospital and University of Cambridge
‘I heard about the fellowship from my supervisor, Peter Hutchinson, who was himself supported by a Freemasons fellowship during his PhD.
Peter is now a reader and honorary consultant in neurosurgery at the University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
‘Head injuries still claim the highest toll in terms of lost lives and disability for those under the age of forty. The aim of my research project is to examine whether blockage of the large veins inside the head is contributing to the brain swelling after head injuries. Research in patients suffering from another condition that leads to high pressure inside the head has shown that quite a few of these patients have blockage of the veins. A novel way of dealing with this problem is the insertion of a stent, which is an artificial tube, inside the blocked vein. As a result of this, the pressure inside the head is reduced and the patient gets better. This treatment was developed in Cambridge about ten years ago.
‘Essentially, my research project aims to find out whether a similar mechanism applies to patients with severe head injuries. So far we have some promising results showing that about one-third of those who have a severe head injury and skull fracture develop blockage of the veins. Without the help of the Freemasons, we would not have been able to undertake this kind of research – we are very grateful for all their help and support.’
‘Without the help of the Freemasons, we would not have been able to undertake this kind of research’ Angelos Kolias
Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013
Charity for all
Sir, I read with satisfaction the article ‘A Matter of Patients’ in Freemasonry Today, spring 2013. Satisfaction because it reminded me that thanks to the focus of both the Royal Arch and UGLE on the medical profession in general as recipients of our charitable giving, we have recently attracted two initiates (both GPs) who said they had previously had no idea of
The Grand Secretary embarked on a nationwide media tour to dispel some myths and spark discussion about Freemasonry. Sophie Radice reports
Nigel Brown, Grand Secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, has just been on a tour the length and breath of England – not forgetting an interview with BBC Wales – that would exhaust any electioneering politician or celebrity trying to promote a new book. Over just four days, Nigel gave 40 back-to-back interviews to national and local newspapers and radio stations.
The publication of a new independent report The Future Of Freemasonry was the catalyst to generate discussion about the role of Freemasonry in the twenty-first century, while at the same time debunking certain persistent myths about the organisation. Both the tour and the report are the first stages in the build up to the 300th anniversary of the Freemasons in 2017 and to promote a better understanding of what Freemasonry means.
Nigel found it exhausting but exhilarating, particularly enjoying the direct contact he had with the public in the regional radio phone-in discussions: ‘People still believe certain things about the Freemasons, and of course the deep-seated myth that it is a secret society with unique business networking opportunities came up many times. It was really good to be able to say: “Look, would I be doing a tour of England if it was a secret society?”
‘I was able to tell people that the only time the Freemasons ever went underground was during the Second World War when more than 200,000 Freemasons were sent to the gas chambers by Hitler because he saw Freemasonry as a threat. Seeing Hitler’s persecution of Freemasonry, particularly after he invaded the Channel Islands, and fearing the invasion of England, members became alarmed,’ continues Nigel. ‘Many of the people I spoke to on the tour were very surprised to hear this.’
Nigel goes on to explain that Freemasonry then played an important role post-war for troops returning home, many of whom wanted to be with other men who had been through the same experience. ‘Many lodges were formed during the immediate post-war period. Perhaps too many because there was such a strong need for camaraderie and because of what had happened during the war. As a result they naturally became inward looking.’
need for belonging
While the number of lodges has now levelled out almost to its pre-war period, the sense of brotherly support remains in the 250,000 members in England and Wales. Among its conclusions, The Future Of Freemasonry report states that ‘there is a timeless need for a sense of affiliation and belonging’. The report also emphasises the importance that Freemasons place on helping others.
‘The only requisite we have for joining the Freemasons is that they are people of integrity, honesty, fairness and kindness who believe in a supreme being,’ explains Nigel. ‘We welcome people of all races and religions with different social and economic backgrounds. This kind of openness, and the fact that Freemasonry is a non-religious and non-political organisation means that the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Israel is a Palestinian, and that is because the decency and morality of our members is of paramount importance.’
When Nigel told people he met on his tour that the Freemasons were the biggest charitable givers after The National Lottery, donating £30 million last year, he was met with incredulity. ‘These very large contributions come from Freemasons’ own efforts rather than from street collections or any other type of external fundraising. Because the Freemason does not ask for thanks or reward it means that very few people know about our charitable donations, even though they are on such a large scale. For instance, we are the main donors to The Royal College of Surgeons, funding much of their research and donate generously to the Red Cross. I know it seems a small thing but it is something that I am particularly proud of. We are the people that provide teddies for all children going into surgery, to comfort them in that difficult moment.’
Questions about Freemasonry rituals, rolled-up trouser legs and secret handshakes were well prepared for. Nigel explained that he had never come across the secret handshake but was glad to shed light on the rituals as a series of ‘one-act plays’ performed by members as they moved up the ranks of the Freemasons. ‘I was happy to tell interviewers and those ringing in to radio discussion programmes that there was nothing sinister about it. I think that rituals are very important to a sense of belonging and our members thoroughly enjoy taking part in these performances and memorising their lines. They provide a distinctive character to joining and moving through the ranks of the Freemasons – our aim isn’t to make Freemasonry bland but to make the public more aware of what we do.’
Even in recent memory, Freemasonry has had to deal with discrimination against members. ‘On some job application forms there was the question, “Are you a member of a secret society, e.g. the Freemasons?” We got that removed by the European Court of Human Rights, but we still have to work hard to make sure that our members are not wrongly judged, or feel that it is something they have to hide. As the report shows, our members really value the feeling of belonging to an organisation that contributes to society and is a part of their life that they can be proud of. Freemasonry is more relevant than ever – in a competitive and fragmented society it provides a combination of friendship and structure.’