Tribute to Hirji Sorab Adenwalla–A Unique Medical Missionary
“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life; dream of it; think of it; live on that idea. Let the brain, the body, muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, and this is the way great spiritual giants are produced.”
― Swami Vivekananda
The above quote epitomizes what Hirji Sorab Adenwalla ([Fig. 1]) followed; the “idea” in his case being a medical missionary worker in general, and caring for children with cleft lip and palate in particular. It is little wonder that he rose to be a giant in his field.
Hirji Sorab Adenwalla was born on June 5, 1930. He completed his graduation and postgraduation in Surgery at the Seth Ghordandas Sunderdas Medical College and KEM Hospital, Bombay, 1955. He then worked as a Senior Registrar at the Bai Jerbai Wadia Hospital for Children, Bombay, where he gained his experience in Pediatric and Plastic surgery and came under the influence of Charles Pinto, whose work on cleft lip and palate children inspired him to take up cleft surgery. Whenever he spoke of Charles Pinto, it was with awe and great respect ([Fig. 2]).
He was desirous of joining Albert Schweitzer in Africa as a medical missionary. However, bowing to family pressure, he agreed not to go there, but got them to agree to accept his posting at the Jubilee Mission Hospital in Thrissur in 1959. Through sheer hard work and versatile talent in surgery and allied fields, he developed this dispensary into a full-fledged hospital for the wholesome treatment of the poor masses of Thrissur specifically and Kerala as a whole.
In his initial years, he was an all-rounder, and treated all ailments that he was presented with. Thus, he was a general physician, general surgeon, pediatrician, pediatric surgeon, obstetrician, neurosurgeon, thoracic surgeon, surgical gastroenterologist, and urologist rolled into one. He was also his own anesthetist, radiology technician, and even the gatekeeper of the hospital, having to open the gates to let in emergency patients at night.
In the initial years at Thrissur, he was the sole surgeon in the hospital and deftly handled a variety of surgeries, including all types of gastrointestinal surgeries, thoracotomies, pediatric surgery, gynecological surgery, orthopedic surgery, ventriculoperitoneal shunt for hydrocephalus, and even closed mitral commissurotomy ([Fig. 3])! Few would probably know that his first publication (that is even now being cited) was not on cleft surgery or even plastic surgery but on clavicular fractures. He devised a technique of excision of the cut ends of the midclavicular fractures, creating a nonunion and enabling early ambulation in these patients.
He gradually set about organizing the hospital, recruited specialists, and trained them to head the various departments. The rock-solid foundation that he laid helped the hospital blossom into the 1500-bedded multispecialty Medical College and Research Institute that it is today.
For the past 40 years or so, he devoted himself solely to the care of cleft lip and palate children. The treatment of such children was his true passion. He was like a wizard weaving his magic on these children with grotesque deformities, dramatically transforming their lives and enabling them to merge unobtrusively into society with a near normal form and function ([Fig. 4]).
20 August 2020 (online)
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