Steve Furniss

A tribute written by BHRS Treasurer, Steve Murray

The word tragedy is an overused cliche in many of today’s press, however in the case of the sudden loss of our friend and colleague Steve Furniss it is no exaggeration. But rather than focus on the tragedy I would urge each and every one of us to focus on the triumph that was Steve’s life.

Steve served the British heart rhythm community for much of its history, helping to take it from a niche specialty to its current standing as a major and integral part of modern-day cardiological care. He spent the majority of his career pioneering complex ablation in Newcastle upon Tyne at the Freeman hospital. Over the last few days I have had the pleasure and privilege of listening to many anecdotes and personal insight from all the people who worked with him throughout these years.

The phrase that came up more often than not was that “everyone loved Steve”; he had no enemies, he worked seamlessly with a variety of specialities, including cardiac surgeons, and indeed it is easy to forget he was a PCI doctor, contributing to the primary PCI rota. One cath-lab physiologist recalls him doing a primary PCI in the middle of the night in a patient who was also in atrial flutter, and instead of finishing and rushing back off to bed, he called for the EP equipment to be brought out and duly did an isthmus line, restoring sinus rhythm and improving haemodynamic status of the patient! When asked how the lab staff responded in the middle of the night to such a request, our physiologist just shrugged and said “Well, you know… everyone loves Steve, and he was just too enthusiastic!”

Many of our senior physiology staff cite Steve as their teacher and reason for taking up the job in the first place; they talk about how he’d always make a point of catching up with them long after he’d left Newcastle. Steve was as much fun outside of work, and I have heard a great many anecdotes of the antics he enjoyed with them; he was entirely inclusive and several members of staff have told me how he would make them feel special just by being with him. If I had to define the term “bon viveur” I would conjure the image of Steve grinning widely holding a glass of wine, seated around a wide dinner table and engaged in enthusiastic conversation about everything and anything. This being easy for him as he was truly a polymath, bringing his enthusiasm and dedication to every hobby and interest in his life.

That enthusiasm was not confined to Freeman hospital, as for most of my years Steve was the chair for many a meeting and live case and was also found up and down the country helping colleagues to perform complex ablation and set up their own services. Personally speaking, he was to me like a “Rockstar” of EP! He was the cool and witty face of a specialty that had been dubbed “train spotting for cardiologists” when I was a very junior doctor.

He was also well ahead of his time, and whilst most of us having embraced substrate modification for VT as our main strategy, Steve with his colleagues at Freeman were actually doing this in the 1990s at a time when many EP centres across the world deemed VT ablation to be an impossible dream. He was an early adopter of epicardial ablation. Anyone who worked with Steve or trained under him knew that rules were meant to be broken, and he frequently used catheters and equipment in a manner best described as “off piste”. However, he was a stickler for quality and peer review, and during his time as President of the BHRS the question he would ask us all was “how do you know if you’re any good?” He was an early champion of peer review and site visits, which again was ahead of its time.

I would like to think that Steve did know he was good. In fact I would like to think that he knew he was regarded as one of the best. I would hope you all share this view, and once again I urge all of you who knew him to think of him in triumph, as the pioneer, the friend and probably the coolest man in EP!

Written by Steve Murray, colleague and friend of Steve Furniss

*the photo to the left is Steve meeting up with Donald Greenhalgh – one of the original EP physiologists at Newcastle! The smiles say it all!!

The funeral of Steve Furniss will take place on 9th June 2022 at 14:00 St John’s Church Meads, Eastbourne and afterwards at Royal Eastbourne Golf Club 15:30.