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Sir Geoffrey Langdon Keynes ( KAYNZ; 25 March 1887, Cambridge - 5 July 1982, Cambridge) was an English surgeon and author. He began his career as a medic in World War I, before becoming a doctor at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, where he made notable innovations in the fields of blood transfusion and breast cancer surgery. Keynes was also a publishing scholar and bibliographer of English literature and English medical history, focussing primarily on William Blake and William Harvey.
Geoffrey Keynes delayed his medical education in order to serve in World War I, where he served as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps and then worked as a consultant surgeon, becoming an expert in blood transfusion. His experience in the First World War led him to publish Blood Transfusion, the first book on the subject written by a British author. Keynes also founded the London Blood Transfusion Service with P. L. Oliver. Keynes was deeply affected by the brutality and gore that he witnessed in the field, which may have influenced his dislike for radical surgery later in his career.
Keynes began working full-time at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London, where he worked under George Gask and Sir Thomas Dunhill, after returning from World War I. Keynes used his influence as an assistant surgeon to advocate for limited surgery instead of the invasive radical mastectomy. Frustrated with the mortality rate and gruesomeness of the radical mastectomy, Keynes experimented by inserting fifty milligrams of radium in a patient's tumor. He later observed that, "The ulcer rapidly healed ... and the whole mass became smaller, softer and less fixed."
Keynes pursued his new idea through a number of trials, observing the effectiveness of injecting radium chloride into breast cancer tumors compared with the effectiveness of the radical mastectomy. The promising results of these trials led Keynes to be cautiously optimistic, writing in 1927 that the "extension of [an] operation beyond a local removal might sometimes be unnecessary." Keynes' outlook was considered a radical break from the medical consensus at the time. Keynes wrote in his autobiography that his work with radium "was regarded with some interest by American surgeons," but that the concept of a limited mastectomy failed to gain significant traction in the medical community at the time. His doubts regarding the radical mastectomy were vindicated some fifty years later, when innovators like Bernard Fisher and others revisited his data and pursued what became known as a lumpectomy. Limited surgeries, like the lumpectomy, accompanied by radiation are now the status quo in breast cancer treatment.
Keynes also a pioneer in the treatment of myastenia gravis. Much like with breast cancer, the medical community knew very little about how to treat the disease at the time. Keynes pioneered the removal of the Thymus Gland, which is now the norm in treatment of myasthenia gravis.
Keynes was knighted for his work in the field of medicine in 1955.
His autobiographyThe Gates of Memory was published in 1981, and he died the following year, aged 95. The Gates of Memory includes anecdotes of Keynes' numerous run-ins and friendships with other famous public figures. For example, Keynes often went climbing with George Mallory, the renowned British mountaineer; he also once performed life-saving treatment on Virginia Woolf after the budding author overdosed on pills.
On 12 May 1917 Keynes married Margaret Elizabeth Darwin, the daughter of Sir George Howard Darwin and granddaughter of Charles Darwin. They had one daughter and four sons:
Keynes dedicated his life to his work, but was also very sociable and had no problem making friends. He took pride in never having been drunk, and was known by most as an affable, well-mannered man.
Geoffrey Keynes' contributions profoundly influenced the fields of surgery and English literature. He pioneered limited breast cancer surgery accompanied by radiation, a strategy that has endured the test of time. His work on William Blake had an even larger impact, as Keynes "was instrumental in establishing Blake as a central figure in the history of English art and literature."
A library of his scholarly works, notes, and correspondences is now located at the University of Cambridge.
A Bibliography of Dr. John Donne (1914, 1932, 1958, 1973)