Remembering Dr Conal B Wilmot
We send our best wishes to Aoife Beary, Clodagh Cogley, Hannah Waters and Niall Murray who are receiving rehabilitation care at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center after the tragic accident in Berkeley, California which claimed the lives of six young people including three UCD students. We remember also a UCD Medicine alumnus who dedicated his life to caring for those with spinal injuries.
The Rehabilitation Trauma Center at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center was developed in 1976 by the late Dr Conal Brian Wilmot, who founded that institution’s renowned spinal cord injury programme. Dr Wilmot was Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center from 1976 until his retirement in 1992 and clinical associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Born in Wexford in 1933, Conal Wilmot attended Willow Park School and Blackrock College where he developed a love of sport including rugby, cricket and boxing. He played Schools Rugby with Blackrock playing at wing forward and was selected for Leinster. He enrolled in UCD Medicine in 1951 and following graduation in 1958, undertook a residency at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. He was a registrar in rehabilitation medicine and surgery from two years at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in England, then a world leader in the treatment of spinal injuries and reconstructive surgery.
In 1962, he was appointed as assistant medical officer at the National Medical Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire, now known as the National Rehabilitation Hospital. Using the skills acquired at Stoke Mandeville, he helped to set up the first rehabilitation service in Ireland specialising in the treatment of spinal cord injury, head injury and spinal bifida patients. The service also co-ordinated the transfer by helicopter of patients with major spinal injuries from all over Ireland in conjunction with the Irish Air Corps.
Dr Conal B Wilmot and colleagues at the NRC pioneered 'life flights' where injured patients were transferred to the National Rehabilitation Centre by helicopter
In 1976 Dr Wilmot was recruited by Stanford University to head the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Centre at Santa Clara Valley, San Jose, California. He combined his work at the centre with lecturing in the university school of medicine. In addition, he held visiting professorships in several US universities and addressed conferences in the US, Canada, and Ireland.
He became a pioneer in the treatment of, and research into, traumatic spinal cord and head injuries. Throughout the course of a thirty four year career, he helped thousands of quadriplegics and paraplegics recover from traumatic injuries to lead independent lives.
He worked on many major research projects and was a contributor to a wide range of medical books and journals. He was a fellow of both the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
It is reported that he chose his profession when, as a young medical student, he became aware of an increase in Northern European cases of spina bifida. He was a committed and articulate advocate for people with disabilities working with the Spina Bifida Association of Ireland and was a founding member of the Irish Wheelchair Association.
Dr Wilmot retired in 1994 and passed away in September 2004. We are extremely proud that Dr Wilmot’s pioneering work is helping those who were injured in the Berkeley accident. We wish Aoife, Clodagh, Hannah and Niall well in their long recovery and remember the family and friends of Eimear Walsh, Lorcán Miller, Nick Schuster, Olivia Burke, Ashley Donohoe and Eoghan Culligan who lost their lives in the accident.