Milestones on The Sand of Time: The legacies of Dr. John Oluyemi Mabayoje

Milestones on the sand of Time: The legacies of Dr. John Oluyemi Mabayoje
Reflections on the Pioneering Nigerian Cardiologist.

By Dr Abraham A Ariyo

This week, the Nigerian Cardiac Society celebrate its 50th year anniversary. Key to the establishment of this organization was Dr. Mabayoje, the first cardiologist in Nigeria and the West African subregion.   He passed the British MRCP examinations in 1951, becoming the first African to do so. He came back to Nigeria to help set up, among other things, the Nigerian Cardiac Society.

We remember and celebrate his life this week in our medical history.

Dr. Mabayoje attended St. John’s primary school in Iloro, Ilesa, and his secondary school at Government College in Ibadan (GCI), both in western Nigeria. He distinguished himself and led the examinations at GCI to the Higher College Yaba. He was initially studying engineering when his father asked him to change to medicine.

Subsequently, he attended the historic Yaba Medical School and was elected the President of the Association of Medical Students (1944-45). At graduation, he was the overall best graduating Medical Student, collecting most of the available prizes and awards. He qualified as a Licentiate in Surgery and Medicine (L. S. M.) in 1947.

He was taught under the tutelage of the pioneering Clinical Instructor, Professor P. M. Otolorin. After graduation, with zeal, energy, and much aspiration, he proceeded to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Dublin. He took and passed the Conjoint Examinations with honors in 1948, receiving gold medal awards in Physiology and Biochemistry.

Further, he started preparing for the coveted college membership examinations. He took these examinations in 1951 and passed, making him the first African to pass the membership examinations of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Edinburgh or any Royal College of Physicians membership at that time.

In 1952, he returned to Nigeria and was appointed the Special Grade Medical Specialist at the Federal Ministry of Health in Lagos, serving at the General Hospital in Lagos. In 1964, he did Fellowship training in Cardiology at Toronto General Hospital, University of Toronto, in Ontario, Canada. In 1965/66, he built the first cardiac catheterization laboratory (CathLab) in Nigeria at the General Hospital, Lagos, due to a gift from the Canadian government to the General Hospital, Lagos.

He later moved to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) when it opened, and helped established the second CathLab in 1966/67. He rose to become the Professor and Chief of the Department of Medicine. 
Dr. Mabayoje was the founding father of numerous medical organizations including the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), in which he was the first Secretary General (1963-67). During his tenure he published the first issue of the Nigerian Medical Journal, Medical Guild. He elevated the status of the organization, simultaneously moving it from a financial penury to a financially sustainable organization.

Further, he helped formed the Association of Nigerian Physicians (ANP), where he served as the first president (1965-67). He also helped formed the Association of West African Physicians, the Nigerian Postgraduate Medical College, the West African College of Physicians (WACP), the West African College of Surgeons (WACS) and the Nigerian Cardiac Society (NCS), that is celebrating its 50th year anniversary this week.

He was the Deputy Provost of the College of Medicine, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) from 1969 to 1980 and was a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Advisory Panel on Cardiovascular Diseases (1959-1980).

He was a great clinician, an astute scientist, the doctor of doctors, and teacher of teachers. After an exemplary service and career, he retired in 1980, and moved back to his hometown of Ilesa. He built a rural WHO clinical and research center where he continued to work until he passed away peacefully in his sleep in the year 1990. He left behind children and grandchildren, many of whom are specialist physicians in their own rights.

May the Good Lord continue to rest his soul. Amen.

Abraham A. Ariyo, MD, MPH, FACC.
Director, HeartMasters Cardiology,
Interventional Cardiologist, Baylor Scott & White Medical Center.

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