submitted by Victor Panaretos on 13.02.2005
James Kalokerinos was born on 3 June 1926 in Glen Innes, a town in northern New South Wales, the second son of Nicholas and Mary Kalokerinos, migrants from the Greek island of Kythera. In those days Kythera was poverty-stricken, and many of its people were forced to emigrate in order to survive; some went to America, but the majority came to Australia. James’s family background included Minos Kalokerinos of Crete, who in the latter part of the nineteenth century dug some trenches on a plot of land he owned and found massive walls that he showed to Heinrich Schliemann, the German archaeologist. Schliemann, however, was unable to excavate further; it was Sir Arthur Evans who finally unearthed the legendary palace of Knossos on that site. Another Kalokerinos was connected with the discovery of the statue of the Venus de Milo, and the battle with the Turks when attempts were made by the French to ship the statue to Paris.
James completed his schooling at Sydney Boys High School. After this he studied medicine at the University of Sydney, and went to Sydney Hospital as a junior medical officer. At first he intended to be a surgeon, but he early showed a special talent as a diagnostician. He had a rare ability in sorting out unusual diseases and unusual problems in a simple, common-sense way. In visiting a fellow graduate and friend, Ray Dan, who was studying radiology in Glasgow, James’s future was determined when he discovered the challenge that is diagnostic radiology.
Following his return to Australia in 1956, Kalokerinos was appointed as a registrar in radiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, and from 1957 to 1959 he was assistant medical superintendent. In 1959, he became the first full-time director of radiology at the hospital, holding that position until 27 April 1967, when John Hunt took over as head of the department.
Kalokerinos was a keen teacher and was involved in planning the first stage of the radiology department of the new Royal North Shore Hospital. The position was in itself a challenge: radiology was in the process of dramatic change and it was necessary to adapt, and adapt quickly.
Gastric diagnosis was a special problem. Double-contrast techniques were not in general use and were poorly understood; within a remarkably short time, James had established his department as a recognised authority in this field. The first patient to owe his life to the then new double-contrast technique at North Shore was a friend of Archie Kalokerinos, younger brother of James—he is still alive and well after thirty years. [Use the internal search engine to locate numerous entries for Archie Kalokerinos.]
James Kalokerinos quickly moved on to initiate the use of the gastric camera. This involved him in an association with the Japanese (he used an Olympus camera), who pointed out to him the advantage of the technology and how it could be applied. Kalokerinos was a pioneer in the use of this camera, which photographed the inside of the stomach, although blindly; it was a predecessor of the modern gastroscope, which has direct vision.
Kalokerinos never lost sight of the ‘simple’ everyday things while he was immersed in the new technology. His reports on plain chest X-rays were remarkably accurate and were based on good thinking, good teaching and considerable natural ability. Diagnostic skill became second nature to him. Very often he solved problems over the phone. If the solution immediately evaded him, he would think about it and, if necessary, consult the literature. if the answer was still not apparent he would know someone, somewhere in the world, who could give him an answer.
Outside the field of medicine, James became enthusiastic in almost everything with which he came in contact. He developed a fine tenor voice (on frequent overseas study tours he became known as a singer of Celtic songs) and became an authority on Scotland, tartans and Scottish Gaelic, but he never lost touch with his Greek background.
John Hunt was associated with James Kalokerinos for some four years at North Shore (he was the visiting radiologist when Hunt started there) before Hunt became head of the radiology department. He remembers James as:
."...flamboyant, a colourful character who sang Celtic songs ... and confident in his attitudes and his judgments ... I
recall him as a ‘frustrated’ handyman who was always scouring for pieces of timber, nuts and bolts from anywhere for his
weekend projects. He also collected coins and used to go through the hospital’s barber’s bag for old pennies". (Hunt, personal communication, 1995).
James encouraged others to enter the study of medicine and thought always about the common good. He was Archie’s first and strongest supporter in his brother’s work among Aboriginal people, both infants and adults.
Kalokerinos left Sydney in the late 1960s and entered private practice in Newcastle, in partnership with Ray Dan. He became ill and died on 17 April 1985. With his death, medicine lost a magnificent talent.
Australian Radiology. A History.
James Ryan, Keith Sutton, Malcolm Baigent.
McGraw-Hill Book Company Australia Pty Ltd.
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