It is deeply sad to be writing a tribute piece about a man whose joie de vivre was infectious and who believed in living his life to the full.
The death of Professor Jim Dornan, retired obstetrician and gynaecologist, has shocked all those who knew him, including people whose lives he touched momentarily. The 73-year-old, who is understood to have been fighting Covid-19, made a lasting impression on everyone he met.
His contribution to Northern Irish society and the health of women who lived here was huge. In his 40 years working in the field of obstetrics and gynaecology, he delivered over 6,000 babies. He was chair of Health and Life Sciences at Ulster University and former chair in Fetal Medicine at Queen’s University.
A much loved and respected doctor, he was also Senior Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London, with particular responsibility for developing global health initiatives.
A former pupil of Bangor Grammar School, Professor Dornan worked as a junior medic around Northern Ireland’s hospitals for 12 years, rising through the ranks to consultant and later, Director of Fetal Medicine at the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast. Throughout an illustrious career, he witnessed many changes in his sphere of work, including the widespread introduction of epidurals, the success rates of IVF and greater choice surrounding births by Caesarean.
He was also a keen advocate for women’s rights. Shocked by statistics that showed around 30% of women in the world had no antenatal care, 50% gave birth outside a birthing unit and 50% had no skilled birth attendant, nurse, midwife or doctor with them at the time of delivery, he set about trying to find a solution.
He worked with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and Professor Nynke van den Broek, to develop a three-to-four day Life-Saving Skills Course for international nurses, midwives and medics to help reduce maternal loss.
In 2013, Professor Dornan published his book, An Everyday Miracle: Delivering Babies, Caring for, Women — a Lifetime’s Work. The book candidly documented his experiences working in the maternity unit and anecdotes which provided “an insight into women’s lives and experiences as well as a sense of some of the ongoing debates within obstetrics and gynaecology”.
He also hoped the book gave men a “greater understanding of the challenges that women face and how they cope with them”.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph in 2013, he told of an experience he’d had as a young medical student, when he was given the opportunity to watch a woman undergo an emergency Caesarean section for fetal distress.
The emotional, safe arrival of the baby was his ‘light-bulb’ moment and after three months in obstetrics and gynaecology, he decided this was the area of specialism for him.
A family man too, with three grown up children, Professor Dornan was better known in some circles as the father of actor Jamie Dornan.
In that same interview, he spoke of his immense pride in all three; Jamie, Liesa and Jessica, particularly in how they had coped with the loss of their mother, his first wife, who died from pancreatic cancer in 1998.
The family worked closely with NI PanC, a group set up in partnership with Pancreatic Cancer Action (PCA) and Pancreatic Cancer Research. Professor Dornan, who had previously been diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, also lent his voice and support to a number of other local charities, Tiny Life and Leukaemia & Lymphoma NI.
While the work he carried out will be his legacy, Professor Dornan, who married fellow obstetrician and gynaecologist Samina in 2002, will also be remembered for his warmth, his wit, his laughter and larger-than-life personality.
He enjoyed new challenges and just recently, had appeared in series three of the locally shot crime drama Marcella, after previously having popped up in the BBC thriller The Fall, which starred his famous son.
Jim Dornan had time for everyone. He was easy to talk to, non-judgemental and kind. He’s been described in countless online tributes as a “legend” and a “diamond”. In short, he was a gentleman and one of a kind.