College of Surgeons honours oldest practicing surgeon Dr. B.J. Masakorala

Tuesday, 27 August 2013 00:15 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The most senior practicing consultant surgeon, with a medical career spanning over 57 years to date, Dr. B.J. Masakorala was honoured with an honorary fellowship of the College of Surgeons of Sri Lanka at the inauguration of the 42nd annual academic sessions of the College of Surgeons of Sri Lanka joint meeting with the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh recently. Dr. Masakorala, born in 1930 was the most senior surgeon among a distinguished list of nine Sri Lankan and foreign fellowship receivers. They were honoured for the recognition of their exceptional contribution to the Sri Lankan surgery and/or surgical training, national/international surgical leadership. Dr. Masakorala hailing from the southern province started his primary schooling in Hikkaduwa, where he excelled in his studies and is considered to be the only doctor living to have received the prestigious Denhem Scholarship awarded by the British Government in 1940. He entered English school Hikkaduwa, after receiving the scholarship for the Southern Province, Galle electorate. One of his batch mates in Hikkadaduwa is the current president of Economic Association of Sri Lanka, Prof. A.D.V. de S. Indraratne. Later he entered, Richmond College Galle, where he was a student under Abrahim Kovoor who taught botany and zoology and then moved to Ananda College, Colombo in 1947. He excelled in his studies at Ananda College, and passed the matriculation examination conducted by University of London and was also awarded the Zoology prize at the university entrance examination. One of his close colleagues at the medical college was Prof. Nanadasa Kodagoda, incidentally who was also a Denhem scholar from the southern province. In 1956, Dr. Masakorala passed his MBBS examination from University of Colombo when internship was first introduced. He was fortunate to assist Dr. P.R. Anthonis as a medical student. His first internship was at Galle general hospital where incidentally it was his last outstation posting among many, before he moved to General Hospital Colombo in 1985. He recalls his posting in Deniyaya hospital as District Medical Assistant (DMA) in the late 1950s (1958-1960) where he had gained wide experience in the use of chloroform anaesthesia for obstetrics manoeuvres. He also recalls judicial post mortems on decomposed bodies after trekking the jungle.  He believes that the experience he got was unique and that the modern day surgeons would not believe or be exposed to such difficult circumstances as the technology was not so advanced during the immediate post independent era. Then he moved to Maharagama cancer hospital as senior house officer where he was involved in treating cancer of the cervix and uterus. He then came to general hospital, Colombo in 1962 and worked under Dr. K.G. Jayasekara and as the registrar of the thoracic unit under A.T.S. Paul. Later in 1963 he was posted to Castle Street hospital and he recalls that he was fortunate to work under Prof. Henry Nanayakkara and was to take up obstetrics and gynaecology. But due to change of policy on scholarships at that time, under the guidance of Prof. Nannayakkara he chose the path of surgery and departed to United Kingdom for his further studies. In 1968, Dr. Masakorala completed his FRCS (Edin) at the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburg, UK, and decided to come back to Sri Lanka to serve his country. He has had a distinguished career as a surgeon which he started in 1969, from Nuwara Eliya and then to Kegalle, Matara, Galle and retired as the senior surgeon after serving five years at the general hospital Colombo from 1985-1990. During his outstation period he recalls, that he met so many friends from various professions such as, judiciary, police, army, planters and businessmen, to date with whom he keeps in touch. He also recalls the 1971 insurgency while in Kegalle where his life was under threat for performing duties at the Kegalle hospital. From his young days, Dr. Masakorala loved swimming as he says, Hikkaduwa, his hometown gave him the best opportunity for him to become a good swimmer and a diver. He recalls Hikkaduwa those days, in a few words and says, “It was a beautiful beach and a reef with thousands of coral fish surrounded by pandanus (wetakeiya) around the beach,” but today, the beauty of Hikkaduwa has disappeared in his eyes. In fact the surgeon won university colours for swimming in 1954 and was involved heavily with Dr. H.S. Perera to raise funds for the Ananda College swimming pool. In his career as surgeon, he has attended to thousands of patients from various parts of Sri Lanka. He recalls his outstation postings as most memorable, where he says those patients have enormous gratitude to him even today. Among his patients were many film industry personalities.  Late Sir Arthur C. Clarke too was one of his regular patients. Even to date, he says, patients come from outstation to consult him and to get his opinion for surgery. But he says at the age of 83, he only does minor surgery now and guides the patients to his colleagues and students. His main interests were thyroid surgery and pancreatic surgery and he has done over 2000 goitre surgeries and whiples surgery as well. One of the main passions of Dr. Masakorala was to put his experience into paper and to teach young medical students whenever he was free and give them the opportunity to learn. Among some of his papers published, the first was in 1975, on Necrotizing Enteritis talk given to the College of Surgeons Ceylon. This was published in the Ceylon Medical Journal, 1976, Vol 21. He has continued to read papers since then and some of his papers are on obstructive jaundice, F.N.A.C. of thyroid gland, techniques of hepaeto enterostomy and then went on to read papers on side mirror injuries and later on the 1987 Pettah bomb blast, where he was the surgeon in charge of the National Hospital. Dr. Masakorala says that he received two opportunities to serve in the United States and through the British Government in Africa, where he and his family was offered to migrate for work. He says his children were offered US or British education while he would serve in those countries, but he had decided otherwise as he always thought that his duty was to serve the country where he got his free education. Once he retired, he recalls late H.K. Dharmadasa, the founder of Nawaloka Hospital inviting him to join as a visiting surgeon. Dr. Masakorala says that he has a moderate approach to private medical practice and says that it is an important element for the medical industry to develop, as the private sector invested in technology at that time where the government hospitals did not have such facilities. He also says that it gave people who could afford, an option to reduce the burden on the public healthcare system, but at the same time he says, when poor patients came to him he would not charge them and would always direct them to his students at the national  hospital, with a letter. Dr. Masaskorala, fondly called as ‘MAS’ by his friends, says that he loved playing tennis and he cultivated this hobby whilst he was stationed out of Colombo and was fortunate to take time to meet other government officials at the tennis clubs where the good old days socialising happened. He served as the president of the planters club, Kegalle in 1974 and then assumed president of tennis club Matara in 1977, and also became the president of the Health Department Sports Club, Colombo from 2005-2007, where he stills plays tennis with his wife, son and friends. At the honorary fellowship presentation Prof. A.H. Sheriffdeen (Consultant Surgeon), who gave the citation, recalled that he and Dr. Masakorala served at the national hospital Colombo where ‘MAS’ served as the senior surgeon and he as a lecturer and that their friendship was a long standing one. Dr. R. Ajanthan, (consultant paediatrician), Dr. Narendra Pinto (consultant orthopaedic surgeon), Dr. Ananda Perera, (consultant orthopaedic surgeon), Dr. Ratansena (consultant surgeon), Dr. Sudeera Herath (consultant surgeon), Dr. Tillkawardena, (consultant surgeon), Dr. Ajith Karunaratna (thoracic surgeon) and Dr. Ramsub were some of the senior house officers   who worked under Dr. Masakorala. Dr. Masakorala is married to Bandu and has two children, Shiromi and Rohan.