Kimberley, South Africa


Schrire Velva

This section edited by J. Willis Hurst, M.D., and W. Bruce Fye, M.D., M.A.

Velva Schrire

Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

Velva Schrire (Fig. 1) was born in Kimberley in what was then the Cape Province of the Union of South Africa and was educated at the Kimberley Boy’s High School, achieving the highest marks in the country in his school-leaving examina- tion in 1933. He received his medical education at the Uni- versity of Cape Town where he was awarded the M.B. Ch.B. degree with Honours. During the course of his medical train- ing he concurrently achieved a Ph.D. in physiology. This re- markable academic career was interrupted when, after intern- ship at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, he volunteered for service in the then Union Defence Force and served as a medical officer.

He returned to take up posts at the University of Cape Town and Hospital in pathology and medicine after the war. In 1949 he was awarded a Nuffield travelling fellowship and spent the next two years as a Senior Registrar at the National Heart Hospital in London. While there he was greatly influ- enced by Paul Wood, whose clinical excellence, critical and razor-sharp intelligence, and industry enthralled him and in- fluenced his approach throughout his life. The wisdom and maturity of other great teachers in London and the USA, which he visited at that time, also greatly influenced his clini- cal and research activities.

On his return to Cape Town in 1951 there was no full-time position available at the University and Hospital. He therefore set up a private practice in Cape Town with a part-time ap- pointment at the University and Groote Schuur Hospital. He was committed to the ideal of a specialist cardiology service in a university teaching hospital and worked tirelessly toward that. He founded the Cardiac Clinic in 1951 despite consider- able initial opposition, which was founded on a concern that this would in some way fragment a very traditional Depart- ment of Medicine. He established an ECG service and a skilled and prompt consultant service, which won over many of those originally opposed. His remarkable energy and enthu- siasm resulted in the acquisition by the Clinic of reasonable facilities that enabled patients to be investigated and treated appropriately. He was appointed to a full-time position as Director of the Cardiac Clinic in 1953.

Between then and the time of his premature death in his mid-fifties in 1972, Velva Schrire established the Cardiac Clinic as a center of excellence in patient care, research, and training. He strove, under tremendous difficulties, to incor- porate the exciting new advances that were occurring into everyday practice. Major developments in investigations and treatment of cardiac diseases were instituted, and under his guidance cardiac surgery was developed as a discipline in Cape Town. The unit he founded was the first such major unit in South Africa. His personal contributions and the con- tributions of his unit to the first human heart transplantation are, unfortunately, often forgotten.1 He can, however, be con- sidered to be one of the founders of modern cardiology in South Africa.

Exacting, firm, strong, and at times inflexible, Velva Schrire was courteous, well mannered, generous, and disarm- ingly charming. He was a skilled physician and cardiologist with a prodigious memory for what he had observed and read. He always made time for teaching, and any problem, howev- er simple, asked by a junior in the middle of a rushed clinic would receive his undivided attention. His publications large- ly reflected his clinical experience and personal observations, which were meticulously recorded in a database that he estab-

Address for reprints:

Patrick Commerford, M.D. The Division of Cardiology Department of Medicine University of Cape Town E25/87 Groote Schuur Hospital Observatory

Capetown 7925, South Africa e-mail:

Received: January 8, 2002 Accepted: January 8, 2002

P. Commerford and L. Vogelpoel: Velva Schrire 301

FIG. 1 Velva Schrire (1917–1972).

lished and that is still in existence today. He wrote on the clin- ical evaluation of patients with tachyarrhythmias,2 clinical features of congenital heart disease,3–5 interethnic differences in the incidence of heart disease,6 and the results of surgical

treatment of congenital and acquired heart disease and peri- cardial disease. His textbook Clinical Cardiology, first pub- lished in 1967, ran to three editions during his lifetime, and his descriptions of the clinical presentations of rheumatic, other valvular, and congenital heart disease remain a useful resource for medical students and junior doctors in develop- ing countries.

He will be remembered as the person who introduced mod- ern cardiology to sub-Saharan Africa. Countless patients and many cardiologists and cardiac surgeons remember him for that contribution.


  1. 1.Schrire V, Beck W: Human heart transplantation—the pre-operative assess- ment. S Afr Med J 1967;41:1263–1265

  2. 2.Schrire V , V ogelpoel L: The clinical and electrocardiographic differentia- tion of supraventricular and ventricular tachycardias with regular rhythm. Am Heart J 1955;49:162–187

  3. 3.Schrire V, Vogelpoel L, Beck W, Nellen M, Swanepoel A: The effects of amyl nitrite and phenylephrine on the intracardiac murmurs of small ven- tricular septal defects. Am Heart J 1961;62:225–236

  4. 4.Schrire V , V ogelpoel L: Atrial septal defect. Am Heart J 1964;68:263–277

  5. 5.Schrire V, Vogelpoel L, Beck W, Nellen M, Swanepoel A: Ventricular sep-
    tal defect. The clinical spectrum. Br Heart J 1965;27:813–826

  6. 6.Schrire V: The comparative racial prevalence of ischaemic heart disease in
    Cape Town. Am J Cardiol 1961;8:173–177

  7. 7.Schrire V: Clinical Cardiology. London: Staples Press, 1964