06 July 2018 (Last updated: 6 Jul 2018 09:44)
OBE awarded to pioneering BSSH surgeon who has transformed the lives of countless children through her many years of dedicated work in hand and upper limb surgery.
Ruth Lester originally trained as a plastic surgeon, and her first appointment as a consultant was as a Burns Surgeon at the Birmingham Accident Hospital, where she discovered a need for hand surgery. Around 1990, Ruth was contacted by the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital, requesting that she join them to help with children’s hand conditions. She then went on to negotiate a transfer to The Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH) as she found that she wanted to operate on these children at a younger age and therefore needed the facilities of a children’s hospital.
During her time at BCH, Ruth began to encounter more complex cases, where the children would benefit from input from other specialist colleagues. These conditions ranged from forearm deformities and arthrogryposis to complex obstetric issues to the nerves in the neck of a baby. Ruth found it crucial to involve other specialities in the more difficult cases she worked on in order to provide the best care, describing their support as “invaluable.” Despite the complex nature of her work, she describes working with children as the “icing on the cake – the best!”
After retiring in 2015, Ruth continued to mentor and teach at the BCH. This continued involvement resulted in the setup of multidisciplinary clinics working with other specialists. In fact, the Birmingham Children’s Hand and Upper Limb Service became recognised by the trust, across the country and even internationally. A further part of Ruth’s legacy comes in the form her charitable fund CHARMS (Children’s Hand and Arm Surgery) which is administered by BCH charities, along with her hand camps which both provide further support for the children and training staff. She comments that “the majority of these children are just brilliant, but some do value psychological support. The therapists provide a lot of this support before, during and after surgery and of course when surgery is not an option”.
“As surgeons, we may offer an adjustment to the anatomy – but the important thing is supporting the whole child and encouraging them to do everything.”
Ruth has been involved with both the BSSH and BAPRAS since early on in her career, with almost 20 years as a member of BSSH. She was elected to council from 2011-2014 where she began thinking about hand trauma and in particular how there was no model for this in the UK. This led Ruth to gathering a group of hand surgeons, therapists and patients to look at setting standards in the UK for hand trauma patients. This became a national project with ongoing work to support networks of hand surgeons across the country develop more standards and audit the results. She is therefore delighted that BSSH set up a dedicated subcommittee for Hand Trauma UK.
“Hand surgery is a great example of specialists from different disciplines working together – orthopaedic and plastic surgery in particular.”
The letter announcing Ruth’s OBE came to her as a complete surprise. She was initially astonished as to why she had been picked out, but on reflection came to regard it as an award for the whole team. “Yes, I happen to be the one who is picked to go to the palace – but it’s the whole of the children’s hospital that deserves this”.
The Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust were of course delighted to hear of Ruth’s award, describing her “constant dedication to improving the care and support for the children and families she looks after” as “an inspiration to us all. Not only is she an expert in her field, but she is a wonderful and humble human being who has put young people at the heart of everything that she’s done.” The BSSH of course reflects this reaction and are immensely proud and delighted at the recognition of Ruth's hard work. This is indeed a very well-deserved award and we congratulate Ruth immensely.
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