The medics who’ve done it all!
Batch of 1962 – On completing forty years as doctors
1962 was a significant year in the history of medical education in Sri Lanka. The second Medical Faculty (after the Colombo Medical Faculty set up 137 years ago) of the University of Ceylon was established in Peradeniya. Since then, Medical Faculties have sprung up in Ruhuna, Jaffna, Kelaniya and Sri Jayewardenepura. I am told there is one in Rajarata as well! Just like the debate on which school is the best of them all, it still rages on with regard to which medical school is the best of them all.
My more serious intention here in this article is to give a pen-sketch of a batch of students who gained admission to the prestigious Colombo medical school in June, 1962. Having graduated in 1967, this batch will be completing 40 years this year as western qualified (allopathic) medical doctors. Perhaps, a better title for this article would have been - "Colombo Medical Students of the 1962-67 era – where are they now?"
Being a large batch of over 150 students, it is well nigh impossible to mention the names of all my batch mates in this article. Therefore, let me at the outset, extend my humble apologies to those whose names I have failed to mention here. Yet, I must emphatically state that at least in my mind, each and every member of that great batch of 1962, wherever he or she might be, is held in the highest esteem.
Before talking about the "Golayas", it is nothing but right that I pen a few lines about our "Gurus" first. We learned the finer art of healing the sick under the healing hands of such eminent teachers as Professors O.E.R. Abhayaratne (fondly called “Pachaya"), A.C.E. Koch, M.J. Waas, A.A. Hoover, S.R. Kottegoda, G.H. Cooray, H.V.J. Fernando, A.D. Chapman, A. S. Dissanaike, K. Rajasuriya, D. A. Ranasinghe, Milroy Paul, R. A. Navaratne, C. C de Silva, Priyani Soysa ably assisted by N. D. W. Lionel, Valentine Basnayake, Carlo Fonseka, Lester Jayawardene, Sobitha Pandithratne, Daphne Attygalle, Mrs. Yoganathan, , W. J. Gomes, Nandadasa Kodagoda, Earle de Fonseka, A. Sinnethamby, T. Visvanathan, M.C. Karunairatnam and Oliver Peiris.
We “clerked” under the giant clinicians of the day like P. R. Anthonis, L. D. C. Austin, D. F de S. Gunawardene, Misso, Niles, K.G. Jayasekara, Noel Bartholomeuz, E. C. J. Rustomjee, D. J. Attygalle, R. P. Jayewardene, W.Wijenaike, Oliver Medonza, R. S. Thanabalasunderam, Ernie Peiris, Stella de Silva, Stanley de Silva, Hamza, Hunt, E. H. Mirando, P. R. Walpita, G. N. Perera, the two Rasanayagams (ENT “Rasa” and Orthopaedic “Rasa”), Arulpragasam, Francis Silva, Rienzie Peiris, Deva Adithya, Sri Skandarajah, Thamber, Pararajasegaram, Sivasubramaniam, Lucas, Ponnambalam, Shelton Cabraal, Darrel Weinman, J. R. Wilson, and so on. Only a handful of them are living today. But their dedication to teaching and memories of all the long hours they spent with medical students and patients in the wards will always be remembered.
In naming the batch mates, I wish to start with those nine colleagues who departed this world at a relatively early age. Sunil (SR) de Silva, my dear friend and billiards partner in the men’s common room, was the son of former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ceylon Walwin A. de Silva, and brother of well known journalist Manik de Silva. “Sunna” who worked for the US Air Force as a surgeon was tragically killed in Florida when his car was hit by a drunk driver.
The doctor couple Russel Paul and Dawne de Silva, together with their two children died under very tragic circumstances in Pennsylvania. Karalapillai Sundarampillai who had his medical practice in Kotahena also met with his death in bizarre fashion when a flying galvanized roofing sheet hit him during a heavy thunderstorm. Former Royal College cricketer Kiththa Wimalaratne drowned in his own backyard swimming pool.
Bernard Randeniya was the Director of the Cancer Institute at Maharagama at the time of his death. One of the most distinguished of the lot was Professor Niriellage Chandrasiri who was Vice Chancellor of the Ruhuna University and Professor in Forensic Medicine at the Ruhuna Medical Faculty. More recently, Tudor Wickramarachchi and “Bobby” Somasundaram died in the United Kingdom where they were practising.
With the problem of unemployment looming at the time we graduated, the sixties and seventies saw a massive exodus of doctors from Sri Lanka to other countries. My batch was one of the worst affected. The majority of those who emigrated settled down in th US while others went to the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The few who opted to remain in their homeland however, shone in their chosen specialties.
Sanath Lamabadusuriya who topped the batch in the final examination of March 1967 is today a well-known Paediatrician having held office as Dean of the Colombo Medical Faculty and Professor in Paediatrics. He was awarded the MBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991, in recognition of his contribution to the Sri Lankan cleft lip and palate project of which he was a co-director together with Dr. Michael Mars – a rare honour for a Sri Lankan based in Sri Lanka.
R. S. Jayatilake was the first fully qualified Oncologist in Sri Lanka. R. S. (Revo) Drahaman is a much sought after Otolaryngologist (ENT Surgeon), M. H. S. Cassim (“Cassa”), Chirasri Mallawarachchi (Jayaweera Bandara), Zita Perera (Subasinghe) and J. G. Wijetunga are Ophthalmologists. P. L. (Lucian ) Perera is a General Surgeon. Nithya Jayawickrama specialised in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Lalantha Amarasinghe specialised in cosmetic surgery and was in charge of the Burns Unit in the General Hospital. Suriyakanthi Karunaratne (Amerasekara) is Senior Consultant Anaesthesiologist at the Sri Jayewardenepura Hospital, and a Past President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association. Victor Rajapaksa and W. Rajasooriar are also in the same speciality. Puwan Ramalingam (Sivananthan) is a Rheumatologist. Chanaka Wijesekara is an Orthopaedic Surgeon.
Among the academics are Manel Ratnavibhushana (Wijesundara) who is Professor in Parasitology at the Peradeniya Medical Faculty and Lalani Seebert (Rajapaksa) who is Associate Professor in Community Medicine at the Colombo Medical Faculty. One time champion public schools athlete J. C. Fernando who excelled in the 440 yards event, is a General Practitioner who has maintained his youthful looks and athletic figure to this day. He is married to Surangani Abeysuriya (Fernando) who was also in our batch.
H. N. Wickramasinghe, Ranjit Bulathsinghala, Tilak Dayaratne, V. Ganeshan, Ananda Hettiarachchi, Roshnara de Zoysa (Gunaratne) are General Practitioners in different parts of Sri Lanka. Chitra Morawaka Wijewardene (Weeratunga) retired as the Chief Medical Officer of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.
Among the General Physicians, Harsha Samarajeewa is one of the few in the batch (like Nithya Jayawickrama) who decided to return home after specialisation and a long stint abroad. Other General Physicians produced by the batch and presently in Sri Lanka include Chandra Silva and Kusuma Jayasuriya (Ruberu). The latter being the sister of the famous Olympic boxers HP and CP, the boys never tried their usual pranks on her!
Of the few in the 1962 batch who opted to remain and serve our motherland for a long period, as many as four chose the less glamorous and less lucrative field of Public Health for specialisation. These Community Physicians went into different sub specialities. Punsiri Fernando is a Malariologist who rose to be Director of the Anti Malaria Campaign. Wimal Soysa (Jayakuru) created history as Sri Lanka’s first woman Chief Epidemiologist. S. A. P. Gnanissara was a Medical Administrator who retired a few years ago as Deputy Director General of Health Services (Training and Research) in the Ministry of Health.
The author of this article was among the first (and also the last) five Sri Lankan medical doctors to be sent to the United States in 1974 on WHO Fellowships to specialise in Health Education. Although the writer himself is presently employed by the state government in South Carolina, USA, he has worked for 33 years in Sri Lanka and other developing countries, first with Sri Lanka’s Health Ministry and later in UN organizations (WHO and UNICEF).
Ranjith Kuruppu started out as a Community Physician (MOH) but went into private practice as a Family Physician later on. Though based in London for most part of her career, Pramilla Kannangara (Senanayake) fits in here as a distinguished Public Health Physician who continues to raise funds and runs a project to educate poor children in the fishing villages of southern Sri Lanka. As the Assistant Director General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) she had responsibility not only for medical programmes but also for IPPF’s AIDS, Safe Motherhood and Youth and Adolescent Programmes. She was awarded an honorary FACOG in 2006 for her work in Family Planning. Sriyani Dissanayake (Basnayake) who has made a name for herself as Sri Lanka’s leading sex educator, was the Medical Director of the Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka. Engaged in the same field of family planning is Priya Gunaratne (De Silva).
It is also interesting to note that two females in the batch acquired surnames that are more familiar to Sri Lankans than their own maiden names. I refer here to Vasantha Owitigala (Jayasuriya) whose husband is none other than the Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs in the present government. Swyrie Jayasekara (Balendra) married one of Sri Lanka’s most successful businessmen and former Chairman of John Keells, Ken Balendra.
When Sri Lankan doctors migrated to the United States in droves in the late sixties and early seventies, one particular hospital in Coney Island, New York had so many Sri Lankans working there that it was almost like walking along the corridors of the General Hospital in Colombo. Most of them have since then moved out into other states.
We had many outstanding sportsmen in our batch. Lareef Idroos was Sri Lanka’s ace spin bowler who played for S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia (as captain), SSC and University of Ceylon and also represented the country with distinction before we gained test status. Lareef who is a Nephrologist is now domiciled in California along with former Benedictine cricketer Cyril Ernest (Cardiologist) who also played for the University and represented All-Ceylon. Lareef and Cyril had the unique distinction of representing two countries in cricket at the highest level when both of them were selected to represent USA. Additionally, Cyril played in the USA team that participated in the World Cup in 1982.
With such a large community of Sri Lankans in California, one would expect many of the batch to be settled there. Apart from those mentioned earlier, Nalin Nanayakkara (Obstetrician and Gynaecologist), Piyaseeli Dolawatte (De Silva), R. Wickramasekaran (Cardiologist), R. Nadarajah (Surgeon), M.Z. Lameer (Orthopaedist), P. (Pupa) Sivananda, Chittamparanathan Thiagarajah (Anaesthesiologist) are some of the others in California. Desmond Gunatilaka is a Pulmanologist and critical care specialist in San Jose.
N. Visveshwara who is a Neonatologist in Fresno, California, is credited with the invention of an innovative catheter that relates to cardiac output and matching of ventilation/perfusion in newborns. He has also designed a pediatric ventilator and donated one through his Rotary Club to the Neonatal Unit of Sri Lanka's Castle Street Hospital for Women. Anton Ambrose who is a resident in Los Angeles, lost his beloved wife Beulah and daughter Orlantha in the 2004 tsunami while on holiday in Sri Lanka. Orlantha was a trained classical violinist and was actively engaged in teaching music to poor rural children in Sri Lanka at the time of her tragic death.
Sidath Jayanetti who played Rugby for Royal and the University, is now an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in Virginia.Of all my batch mates based in the US, my closest “neighbours” are Lucky Weerasuriya and A. Satchithananda, both of whom now lead a quiet life in retirement in Florida. Bandula Jayasekara is still in active practice as a Psychiatrist in Kentucky. Malkanthi Wijesuriya is in the same state working in infectious diseases. So is K.L.M.T. (Mahasen) de Silva (Psychiatrist). S. Sarvanandan (Psychiatrist) in Michigan, Ananda de Silva in Missouri, Sisira Ranasinghe (Pathologist) in Ohio, Eugene Anandappa (Paediatric Radiologist) and Bertram Nanayakkara (Paediatrician) in Illinois, Sriyani (“Bunter”) Fernando and Navam Chinniah in Connecticut, T. Yoganathan and Mahesan Richards (both Anaesthesiologists) and S. Sri Kantha (Pain Specialist) in New Jersey, Indra Anandasabapathy (Associate Director of Anaesthesiology at Staten Island University Hospital) and S. Sathanandan in New York, C. Maheswaran (Obstetrician and Gynaecologist) also in Florida, are the others in the northern and eastern parts of the US. L.W. Perera, S. Balachandran (“Yankee Bala”) and Ranjan Hulugalle (Oncologist) are also in the US. Sujatha Maligaspe (Lena) is in Canada.
Relatively few have chosen England as their adopted country. Among names that come to my mind are Suren Iyer, Sunil Abeysuriya, Nihal Amerasekara (Radiologist), K. Balachandra (“Con Bala”), S. Sri Kantha, Nihal Goonetilake, B.L. Perera, A.H.T. Sumathipala, D.S.C. Attale (Psychiatrist), Douglas Mulgirigama, Ranjith Kariyawasam, Razaque Ahamath, Harischandra Boralessa, Mahendra Gonsalkorala, Ranjith Dambawinne, P. V. D. Saparamadu, Anandan Jayaratnam, N. Balakumar, M. Viswanathan, A. F. Doss, S. Vedavanam, L. P. J. M. Wickramasinghe, Jimmy Wickramasinghe, Manel Hettiarachchi (Katugampola), Asoka (“Lubber”) Wijekoon and S. R. Batuwitage. V. Kunasingham who was an outstanding soccer player took to Hockey during his University days and went on to represent All-Ceylon as the goal keeper. Rohini Abhayaratne who is also in UK, is the daughter of the Medical Faculty Dean of that era. Another “Batch Couple”, Upali Wijeratne and wife Padmini Karunanayake are also there. One of Sri Lanka’s leading tennis players of a bygone era Ranjan Wattegedera is also settled in UK.
Australia and New Zealand
Australia has had her fair share from the batch. Kumar Gunawardene (Cardiologist) was recently honoured by the American College of Cardiologists. Lakshman Jayasinghe who started out as a Neuroradiologist now practises in neuroradiology, interventional radiology and nuclear medicine. Sanath de Tissera (Psychiatrist), Easwaran Kanapathipillai, Irwin Herath, Cecil Saverimuttu, Kamini Goonewardene (Ferdinando) and General Physician Kamala Nimalasuria (De Silva) are among the others “Down Under”. Virginia Swan (De Vos) who was an outstanding swimmer as a teenager is also in Australia. Malik Jaimon, Mahendra Collure, M. Rasanathan and Nisha Mallawarachchi (Jayasinghe) are in New Zealand.
Perhaps as the father of a more famous son, Rajan (“Patas”) Ratnesar deserves special mention. Son Romesh Ratnesar is today an internationally known journalist who is a regular contributor to “Time” magazine. “Patas” is Medical Director of a major California Hospital.
Fun and frolic
Our batch was somewhat unique in that we were subjected to a second rag (in addition to the traditional “Freshers’ Rag” during the first fortnight) by our seniors when we were well into our second year in medical school. As if that punishment was not enough, almost all the males in the batch were suspended for two weeks and fined ten rupees by the university’s Board of Residence and Discipline. That was the time when Vice Chancellor Sir Nicholas Attygalle managed university affairs with an iron fist.
What was the offence, one might ask. Traditionally, it is the most junior medical students who play a prominent role with their “high spirited” fun and frolic during the annual Law-Medical cricket match, while the seniors sit and enjoy in the comfort of the pavilion. When the Law and Medical Colleges met in their encounter in 1963, the juniors dressed in black shirts with the skull and cross bones emblem, paraded the streets of Colombo in an open truck as usual. However, they somewhat exceeded the limits when invading the pitch and disrupting play in the Royal-Trinity inter-school cricket match that was being played at Reid Avenue.
That was not all. The boys also “visited” Castle Street Girls School at Borella (present Devi Balika Vidyalaya) and “entertained” the schoolgirls who I am sure enjoyed the proceedings as much as the boys did. As expected, a flood of complaints followed. After a long drawn out inquiry, punishment was meted out to those found guilty. The boys accepting “collective responsibility” and not resorting to finger pointing at those who may have “misbehaved”, avoided probable expulsion of a few students. Punishment was therefore relatively mild.
The author of this article described in more detail the whole incident in an article entitled “Law Medical ’63 and After” published in the journal of the Medical Students Union in 1963. Was it a particularly mischievous batch? Yes and No. But then we were all 44 years younger!