Intended for healthcare professionals


Begoña Anne Bovill

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 25 May 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2265
  1. Simon Rose

An article about leprosy in the World of Wonder children’s magazine triggered Begoña Anne Bovill’s early interest in medicine and infectious disease. She went to the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, where she revelled in student life, designing the logo for Rag Week, performing in shows, and partying as well as studying. Inexplicably she fell for a fellow student of different disposition, with whom she published a few eclectic papers, including an excellent suggestion to treat iron overload in haemochromatosis with hookworms—passed over by The BMJ for its Christmas edition. After an elective in Peru, she cut her teeth on busy house jobs and, as senior house officer at Whipps Cross Hospital, was inspired by great general hospital physicians, such as Drs Partridge and Glick, whose teaching and the huge exposure to general medicine made passing the membership examination for the Royal College of Physicians a formality.

Half Spanish and bilingual, Begoña married me in a hilltop chapel in Andalucia, with a full flamenco choir and mass, officiated by a cigar smoking priest. Later, a little bored on maternity leave, she studied for a MSc at the London Hospital. She was one of the first flexible trainees—if not the first—in infectious diseases, and with support from the deanery she organised her own dual accreditation programme in general medicine and infectious diseases. She trained in now closed units in north London hospitals including St Ann’s and Coppett’s Wood, and she obtained her DTM&H while working at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in St Pancras. She finished her training in Bath and at Southmead Hospital Bristol. Her first consultant post at Southmead was in acute medicine with an interest in infectious disease. Subsequently she was appointed to a pure infectious disease post, although she continued to participate in the acute medical take until 2017. She delighted in every facet of her subject and in diagnosing obscure syndromes masquerading as infection. Begoña photographed anything related to infectious disease, from Koebnerisation of chickenpox vesicles clustering in our then toddler son’s recent appendicectomy wound to feral cats with leishmania in southern Spain. Last autumn she took care to record (for use as her WhatsApp infectious diseases group profile picture), a tiger mosquito feeding on her leg in Granada province before swatting it. She made a pilgrimage to Worth Matravers to photograph the tomb of Benjamin Jesty, who vaccinated with cowpox well before Jenner and was disappointed that the fine Norman church beside which he is buried lacked any sign of a leper’s squint.

When, before the Iraq war there was concern that weaponised smallpox might be released in the UK, she was recruited to become a regional smallpox disease expert. An exciting time, with couriers arrived with double sealed envelopes for her eyes only and planning meetings held in Porton Down. She was revaccinated, struggling through a lecture she was giving on the subject a few days later because of the systemic effects. She enjoyed teaching, especially ward based clinical teaching, but was a reluctant administrator, though latterly she was, among other things, on the clinical reference group for infectious disease services.

Begoña, though not loud, was always up for fun. At a combined primary school and parent performance of the musical Oklahoma, she surprised her children by dancing off the stage and on to the lap of the elderly priest in the front row to sing him “I Cain’t Say No.” Her house and garden reflected her personality; colourful, slightly chaotic, and eccentric, the bathrooms with Alhambra style tiles, a rescue chaffinch, jackdaws, and more conventional domestic birds flapping about datura and frangipani plants she grew from cuttings brought back from holiday. Every year she would create new features for her traditional Spanish Belén (Nativity scene).

She had a Whipple procedure in March 2017. Not wanting to waste a glorious day she walked some 16 km up and over the Black Mountain in south Wales a few weeks later (figure 2) and subsequently worked throughout daily chemoradiotherapy, keen to carry on doing what she enjoyed and to leave her department in good hands. When metastatic disease was discovered in February 2018 she gave her stethoscope to our elder daughter, a budding infectious disease physician. Apart from working, in her final year she devoted herself to gardening, socialising, photography, travelling, and sewing (main picture), using some of a stash of vintage Liberty remnants and slightly imperfect lengths she had bought in the late 1990s, making dresses and blouses for herself and her daughters as well as for potential granddaughters she would never see. She remained fairly well until a couple of days before she died at home.

She leaves three children (one a physician) and her husband (a histopathologist).

Consultant physician in infectious diseases, tropical medicine, and HIV North Bristol NHS Trust (b 1963; q Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine, London, 1987; MSc, DTM&H, FRCP), died from metastatic adenocarcinoma of the pancreas on 3 April 2018

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