Highly-respected Dr Beresford Swan dies at 75
Beresford Swan, a leading physician who founded the Island's first dialysis centre — and quietly contributed to the education of many local doctors — has died, aged 75.
Dr Swan is best known for the kidney treatment unit named after him at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, which he set up in 1978.
“That dialysis unit was his baby,” recalled his son, lawyer Christopher Swan, who said Dr Swan was driven to study kidney disease by the untimely death of his mother, Ismay Swan.
“She died in 1968 of kidney failure,” his son said. “Out of that experience, he made the decision in medical school that he didn't want anyone to suffer as she did.
“He returned to Bermuda, I believe in 1970, as a cardiologist, and was known for being the first here. But once he settled, he changed his focus to renal disease, and he never looked back.”
Born Mark Aubrey Beresford Swan, Dr Swan preferred to go by Beresford, his son said, because the name sounded “tougher”.
Mr Swan recalled the original family homestead on St John's Road as a simple “a tin-top house”.
A student at Central School and the Berkeley Institute, Dr Swan later attended Morgan State University, and studied medicine at the University of Maryland.
Certified in internal medicine, Dr Swan went on to serve in many capacities at the Bermuda Hospitals Board.
From 1971 to 1990, he directed the ECG and EEG laboratory, and chaired the Department of Medicine from 1972 to 1976. Dr Swan was Director of Dialysis from 1976 to 2001.
Mr Swan recalled his father as an avid sailor who named his sailboat after an obscure region of the human brain.
“He spent hours on that boat, not just maintaining it but as a form of stress relief,” Mr Swan said.
A tireless innovator with a passion for carpentry and building furniture, Dr Swan rigged a wheelchair with accessories of his own design after getting his hip replacement.
Added Mr Swan: “He was very big on education, and had done his best, very quietly, to ensure that people he knew needed assistance were able to obtain an education. He was involved in sponsoring and training many doctors now practicing on the Island. The overwhelming response we've received from the medical community since his passing has illustrated to us how greatly he was loved and respected.”
Former Premier Sir John Swan, unrelated but a close friend of Dr Swan's, recalled him as “a doctor's doctor” on whom other physicians called for treatment.
“He came from humble beginnings,” Sir John said. “I remember when his mother died. The tragedy meant he was determined not only to use his brilliant mind for medicine, but to give back in so many ways. His field was internal medicine, which meant he worked in cardio, so he helped a lot of people in Bermuda. Many owe their lives to him.”
“He was an innovator who gave a lot of himself to others. We've lost a great thinker and a hero.”
Dr Swan implemental the Island's first chronic peritoneal dialysis programme in 1972, and started a formal transplant programme for the Island in 1973 before founding the haemodialysis facility five years later.
Before these initiatives, patients with end-stage kidney failure had to move abroad to obtain life saving treatment.
Norma Smith, Director of Medical-Surgical Services, recalled Dr Swan as “more than just a first class physician — he was a mentor and teacher par excellence”.
She added: “Both as a nurse on the medical ward, and when I worked in the Dialysis Unit with him, I knew that I had better know everything about my patients, blood work and all, when he did his rounds.
“He was exacting, with high expectations, yet he inspired self-confidence in us. I, along with many others, owe him a debt of gratitude for all he's done.”
Jill Caines, clinical manager of the Dr Beresford Swan Dialysis Unit, commended Dr Swan as “our mentor, teacher, and patient advocate”.
“Nursing staff trained under him were required to pass an exam given by Harvard Nursing School, and he expected nothing but the best from us,” she said. “We all fondly recall those nail biting medical rounds when nurses were questioned about a particular condition or treatment — each one knowing that if she did not answer correctly, she would be required within a week to present to all staff a research paper worthy of a Master's thesis level. He is fondly remembered for his wit, humour, intelligence, and service to the renal community. I am truly a better person and clinician for having known Dr Beresford Swan and it was a privilege to be one of his mentees. The dialysis family is deeply saddened by his death.”
And Dr Lynnette Thomas remembered Dr Swan as a mentor who became family, nicknamed “Swanny” by those who looked up to him.
“Dr Swan's phenomenal knowledge of not only kidney disease, but also of the dialysis machines, was exceptional. His tireless work has improved the lives of innumerable patients with kidney disease. I am proud to have been mentored by such a great physician and even more proud to carry the torch and continue the work that he began.”
Dr Swan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen's New Year's Honours List 2004/2005.
According to his family, Dr Swan passed away on Sunday evening from complications caused by pneumonia.
In addition to Mr Swan, Dr Swan is survived by his wife, Lucille, son Beresford Jr and daughters Suzanne and Robyn.