Stem cell sculptures created in memory of 'ground-breaking' doctor from Shropshire's specialist orthopaedic hospital

A set of thought-provoking sculptures have been created to honour a former doctor from Shropshire's specialist orthopaedic hospital and his "ground-breaking" research.

Professor Dr James B Richardson died suddenly while on holiday in India with his wife Shona in February 2018
Professor Dr James B Richardson died suddenly while on holiday in India with his wife Shona in February 2018

Professor Dr James B Richardson died suddenly while on holiday in India with his wife Shona in February 2018.

Professor of orthopaedics at the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt (RJAH) Orthopaedic Hospital in Oswestry and much-loved father and grandfather, James' loss was felt by all his family, friends, colleagues and patients – who all came together to transform an outside area at the hospital using creative stem cell sculptures.

The Designs in Mind installation at the RJAH. Photo: Aaron Child of Painted Life

In October 2017, months before his death, James had been able to announce at the 11th annual Oswestry Cartilage Symposium that after more than 20 years of trials and research by his team, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence had finally approved the Autologous Chondrocyte Implantation (ACI) – stem cell treatment to repair arthritic knee joints – to be funded by the NHS.

Colleague Wagih El Masri, emeritus consultant surgeon in spinal injuries, said: "As well as being a skilled orthopaedic surgeon, professor Richardson had energy, charisma and a brilliant curious brain that never stopped exploring effective treatments that are less invasive than major surgery.

"He was well read and had personable, approachable and patient attributes that enabled him to attract support from colleagues as well as communicate and collaborate with basic scientists, researchers and patients.

"His perseverance was rewarded by the approval of his ACI to be used clinically."

Wanting to create something lasting in her husband's memory, Shona invited crowdfunding donations to be made to Oswestry's Orthopaedic Institute and the charity Designs in Mind, a working art studio supporting people living with mental health challenges; both important causes to James.

The Designs in Mind installation at the RJAH. Photo: Aaron Child of Painted Life

Working with Shona and others, Designs in Mind studio manager Bridie Dunbabin developed the idea of creating a piece of artwork to bring attention to both body and mind whilst transforming an unused and unloved space at the hospital to inspire, stimulate and relax staff, patients and visitors.

Taking the stem cell research completed by James as their inspiration, the team began organising the design and construction of five glass panels, each nearly 1.5 metres tall, featuring unique printed designs and set in oak blocks to create the installation.

An application to the Mary Hignett Bequest Fund by Oswestry Rotary Club funded the materials and in December 2019 the project began.

Within months the coronavirus pandemic struck and creators were forced to go virtual.

The Designs in Mind installation at the RJAH. Photo: Aaron Child of Painted Life

As restrictions began to ease earlier this year, Bridie had the task of completing the installation using enamel paints, squeegees, screens, glass plates, pebbles, wall paint and oak blocks.

Bridie said: "We have been able to create an area of peace and mindfulness in a busy hospital where everyone who comes to the RJAH can take a moment out of their day to reflect on the issues that affect them and consider our images inspired by professor Richardson's ground-breaking work."

Oswestry Rotary Club president David Griggs added: "We are honoured to have been entrusted with the legacy from local author, teacher and naturalist Mary Hignett to spend in line with her wishes in the areas of sports and arts.

"It is particularly rewarding when we can help such a variety of people with a single application.

"When applications to the fund close in September each year, we may be able to help a silver band, a cricket club, amateur dramatic group, an embroidery group or something we have not yet encountered by looking after Mary's bequest as best as we can."

Wagih said: "Professor Richardson made a difference to patients, clinical practice and the NHS."

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