‘A tribute to two of the finest plastic surgeons I knew’
However, plastic surgeons in contexts such as India have also historically played an important role in providing much needed care from a societal perspective. This includes care to patients needing reconstructive surgery who have a deformity (such as leprosy patients) or who underwent a serious injury (such as an industrial or road traffic accident). Interventions by plastic surgeons can help these patients get back better body functionality, and also reduce the stigma they might be facing. The other category of patients plastic surgeons treat is patients with burns, including those with subsequent scars and disfigurement. While some burns are due to accidents, many patients with burns have been attacked — an unfortunate example being the high number of acid attacks, often on women, facilitated by easy access to acid products in markets.
The Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Day (15th July was observed as Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Day in India.) should serve as a reminder for us to honour those doctors who in their role as plastic surgeons have dedicated their lives in providing compassionate, quality care to their patients. In my formative years, I came across at least two such plastic surgeons who influenced my outlook towards the field of medicine:
a) Dr Gurumurthy used to head the Department of Burns and Plastic Surgery at the largest public hospital in Bengaluru, Victoria Hospital, when I was undergoing my undergraduate medical training. As medical students and interns, we had a limited time period allotted to working in the Department. The experience of watching Dr Gurumurthy and his colleagues take care of an almost constant stream of patients with burns, often women who had been set ablaze by family members, was a lesson in humility and patient focused care. Even knowing that mortality rates were high in such patients, they would be provided with medical interventions (including much needed pain relief), as well as psychological and legal support by the staff and NGOs such as Vimochana. Dr Gurumurthy was dedicated towards his patients, spent long hours with them and tried to work with his team to provide the best possible care to patients with burns within the constraints of working in a public sector healthcare facility. Frontline magazine did a feature in 1999 on the ward.
b) Dr N H Antia was a pioneer in plastic surgery in India and helped establish the field in the country. His work in reconstructive surgery on leprosy patients was globally recognized. He was an avid researcher, and with his colleagues had a prolific research output – published in leading journals globally. Dr Antia during the course of the career became deeply interested in exploring the importance of public health and community focused care. He also established two organizations, which are still continuing to groom biomedical and public health researchers: the Foundation for Medical Research and the Foundation for Research in Community Health. A summary of Dr Antia’s contributions is available at the website of the Association of Plastic Surgeons of India.
It’s professionals such as Dr Gurumurthy and Dr Antia who through their dedicated work should make the fraternity of plastic surgeons in India proud today.