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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 06:16 GMT 07:16 UK
City grateful for Sharpe intervention
By Peter Scrivener

Professor David Sharpe OBE

The severity of many of the injuries suffered in the Bradford fire meant that 10% of the plastic surgeons in the United Kingdom were needed to help tend the wounded.

The team was led by Professor David Sharpe OBE, who was 39 and had been working as a consultant plastic surgeon for five months at the time of the disaster.

In addition to his National Health Service work, Professor Sharpe was also, and still is, in private practice in Yorkshire and London.

And it was through a patient at the Yorkshire Clinic that Professor Sharpe first found out about the fire.

"I was on call and at home when I received a message from a patient at the Clinic who had burned himself at a football game," he said.

"I thought it was a little strange but it was only when I got there that I began to realise the full extent of the disaster."

The Bradford Royal Infirmary had already been inundated with calls when Professor Sharpe arrived.

"It was pandemonium, but because there was a plastic surgery unit at the hospital, most of the nurses were experts and knew what to do," he continued.

"Triage was set up, which is the process of prioritising who needs treatment first.

"Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield gave us 10 beds and it was then a case of judging who best to send there and working out which patients had the best chance of survival.

"We were extremely fortunate though as there were lots of similar burns and very few patients with smoke inhalation, so it was easy to organise.

"We admitted those that needed surgery, and the rest were treated in out-patients."

Professor Sharpe's next challenge was to plan the surgery for 258 people, who, due to the nature of their injuries had to be operated on by the following Friday.

Everyone was very selfless, supporting each other, and that minimised the emotional suffering
Professor Sharpe OBE

"We knew how many burns we had to treat and that we had 13 or 14 of the 130 or so plastic surgeons in the country staying with us, so it was just a case of pulling everyone together," said Professor Sharpe

The plan was to use the four operating theatres available and use three or four surgeons on each patient.

"It was actually incredibly easy," he continued.

"Nearly all of the burns were caused by radiant heat reflecting down from the roof of the stand and 90% of the patients we dealt with were discharged within three-to-four weeks.

A lot of the techniques Professor Sharpe used on his patients were already in use, but they had not been deployed on such a mass scale before.

"We needed quick methods of attaching skin grafts so we used acryllic glues and staples which we wouldn't necessarily use in a normal situation," he explained.

The majority of Professor Sharpe's patients were elderly, but he feels that in fact helped the recovery process for many.

"They remained stoical though and kept morale high as many had been in the Second World War and coped with tragedy before," he said.

"Everyone was very selfless, supporting each other, and that minimised the emotional suffering as they just got on with it."

In the weeks after the fire, Professor Sharpe helped found and became the director of the Plastic Surgery and Burns Research Unit at the University of Bradford.

The unit was established with money from public donations and the efforts of many local groups.

The unit does not act like the burns unit at Pinderfields which treats life-threatening injuries, but allows research fellows to experiment on human tissue and on improving the healing process.

It has provided the resources for around 25 fellows to carry out work, and still partly relies on donations from the public - Bradford City hold a collection every year at their final home game for the unit.

Professor Sharpe was awarded the OBE for his work in the aftermath of the fire, but he was quick to praise the rest of his team for their efforts.

"I explained the logistics of how it was all going to work to the media and my predictions, by sheer good fortune, came through," he continued.

"Myself and John Settle, who was in charge of the burns unit at Pinderfields (and also received an OBE), just happened to be the leaders, but everyone deserved credit."

Be that as it may, the people of Bradford have much to thank Professor Sharpe for, as had it not been for his expertise, many more fans may have perished from their injuries.

Feature: Remembering the Bradford fire


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