He was keen to share his invaluable knowledge and expertise in his field of small animal cardiology. A well educated, witty man, he had a wicked sense of humour and an infectious smile.
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Alistair Robert Gibson MVB, MRCVS, (b) 1961, (q) Dublin, 1986. Died 17 March 2019.
Alistair was born 1961 in Belfast, the first son of the late Bertie and Esme Gibson. His father, along with partners, Maybin and Kirkpatrick, established one of the first group veterinary practices in Northern Ireland.
After education in Ballymena Academy, he initially considered law, but chose to study veterinary medicine. He was an active sportsman, representing the university at hockey and cricket. His classmates recall his friendly, positive and professional manner. That said, he also was not immune to being the ringleader in pranks and wind-ups. This humour was evident throughout his career.
Alistair's contribution to veterinary practice was immense
After graduation, Alistair worked initially in Derbyshire and Cumbria. Around this time, on a ski trip, he met Jo, who later became his wife.
To fulfil a long-held desire to work with his father, the family moved back to Northern Ireland and in time the practice became Grove Vets, Ballymena.
Alistair was a gifted vet and excellent mentor to both students and recent graduates. He gave them the confidence to develop their skills, as well as reassuring them when patients did not respond as hoped to treatment. They remember his wide-ranging surgical abilities and how, throughout the most technical procedures, he continued to teach those around him through running commentaries.
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From his early days, he developed an interest in cardiology. He was largely self-taught, although he observed and worked with others in the field. To ensure he was able to deliver an affordable service from his rural base, he sourced secondhand equipment from hospital sales, auctions and the Internet.
He became proficient in echocardiography and ultrasonography and developed the skills to deliver interventional techniques. In the years before private referral practice, Alistair was offering pacemaker implantation and balloon valvuloplasty, as well as surgical ligation of patent ductus arteriosus and other intrathoracic surgeries. He was the quickest surgeon to identify and ligate portosystemic shunts that I worked with. For the past 15 years I have had the pleasure of working with him on the vast majority of these procedures as well as other interventional techniques, including the use of cutting balloons for aortic stenosis.
Alistair suffered from a form of postviral myocarditis and his heart health gradually declined over 20 years. As his health deteriorated, he stepped away from practice to develop his cardiothoracic and ultrasound services. To ensure a regular income for his family, he also undertook what he thought would be a short period of work in poultry medicine. It lasted 20 years. As with all his other professional activities, he excelled in this field too.
As a gifted teacher, he lectured extensively and widely. His heart sounds lecture, with vivid reproductions of the various heart murmurs, will be clearly recalled by those who heard it.
Alistair served the profession through a range of appointments with the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), the North of Ireland Veterinary Association, the Veterinary Surgeons Supply Company and the RCVS. He chaired the PetSavers management committee, was BSAVA public relations officer and chairman of the international affairs committee.
Outside his professional life, Alistair was a proud father of two sons. He coached them on the junior cricket pitch and shared with us stories of their most recent academic and professional exploits.
In 2017, he was admitted to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne to await a heart transplant and successful surgery was performed. Recovery was initially slow, but Alistair was back in full-time work for around a year before his sudden, tragic and untimely death.
The celebration of his life ended with the words of Spike Milligan’s poem ‘Smile’ – words that are a suitable memorial to Alistair.
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