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Remembering “Walloops”: Father of Cardiology in SL

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

The pioneering Cardiologist Dr Narendradas Jayaratnam Wallooppillai, affectionately referred to as “Walloops” by his friends, who succumbed to heart failure on 6th January 2011, surely deserves the title ‘The Father of Cardiology in Sri Lanka’ because it was during his tenure that Cardiology came to its own as a speciality. However, he was not the first to head the Cardiology Unit of the General hospital, Colombo. That distinction goes to Dr Ivor Obeysekara who, in spite of fighting against all odds to establish a dedicated Cardiology Unit, took early retirement and left for Australia. Dr Obeysrekara’s tenure was short, not having sufficient time to develop the speciality, the Cardiology Unit functioning as a Cardiology ward during his time.

Dr Wallooppillai was born on 6th June 1925, to the wealthy and influential Velupillai family which settled in Balangoda thanks to the hospitality of the Ratwatte family; the ancestors of Mrs Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike. It is said that when he was admitted to St. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, the warden, Canon De Saram, changed the spelling of his name from Velupillai to Wallooppillai as he thought it was more user friendly. He graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ceylon in 1951 and proceeded soon after to UK. He obtained MRCP (London) and MRCP Cardiology (Edinburgh), undergoing training in Cardiology in Manchester.

On his return he was appointed Consultant Physician, General Hospital, Jaffna. Subsequently he was appointed the first Physician-in-charge of the Cardiac Investigation Unit (CIU) in General Hospital, Colombo which was set up around the same time as the Cardiology Unit. Dr Mahinda Weerasena was appointed the Consultant Cardiac Radiologist to this Unit and Dr Thistle Jayawardena, Consultant Anaesthetist, who was instrumental in setting up the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (the first intensive care unit in the country), joined later.

I was fortunate to know Dr Wallooppillai from June 1968, when I became his Registrar, and owe my entire training in Cardiology to him. I pride myself in being the first Cardiologist to be trained entirely in Sri Lanka and it is a credit to his tutelage that even after leaving Sri Lanka, I was able not only to practice Cardiology in UK but also set up an acclaimed Cardiology service in Grantham Hospital. For this, I am eternally indebted to him.

How I got to working with Walloops is an interesting story. Whilst working as the Registrar in the Professorial Medical Unit of the Peradeniya Medical Faculty under Professor Ajwad Macan Markar and Senior Lecturer Dr T. Varagunam, I obtained M D (Ceylon) degree in December 1967. Though I had a further 18 months of my secondment to the Professorial Unit left, the Department of Health withdrew me and appointed me Resident Physician, General Hospital Kandy. To my surprise, I got a call from the Department inquiring whether I would be interested in the post of Registrar CIU in General Hospital, Colombo. Having ascertained that this unexpected offer was simply because there were no applicants in spite of the post being advertised twice, I decided to meet Dr ‘Kalu’ Jayasinghe, the Assistant Director of Hospitals to have a chat. Whilst admitting that Wallops is a tough task-master, he advised me to take it as it would be my opening to the speciality of Cardiology which was in its infancy at the time. I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr Jayasinghe for that sound advice which changed my life forever.

My initial reservations soon vanished as I found Dr Wallooppillai to be a great teacher, very inspirational one at that, as well as an efficient organiser. He shaped the career of many, including myself, who practice/d Cardiology not only in Sri Lanka but around the world. I enjoyed the work so much that it was with a very heavy heart I left the CIU in September 1969 to go to UK on a Departmental Scholarship for Post-graduate qualifications.

On my return with MRCP (UK) in early 1972, I was appointed Consultant Physician, General Hospital, Badulla. Shortly after that Dr Wallooppillai was appointed Cardiologist and he suggested that I state my claim to succeed him as the Physician-in-charge of CIU. Before I could do so, the Director of Health Services appointed another without even an advertisement, contrary to existing regulations! A long battle ensued and, finally, the Department offered to appoint two physicians to CIU but Dr Wallooppillai advised against taking up that appointment. Instead, he created a post of Registrar in Cardiology which I accepted in June 1973, in spite of having to step down from the position of a Consultant in a provincial hospital. I do not regret that decision as I was able to assist Walloops in developing Cardiology as a speciality. In 1975 Coronary Care Unit, the first medical intensive care unit in the country, opened and progress was relentless since. He gave me a free hand, as well as all the support, to develop the permanent pacing programme. The seeds that were sown blossomed out, Cardiology being one of the most advanced specialities in the country today.

My batch-mate as well as Jeewaka hostel-mate, Dr D. P.Atukorale was due to return after training in Cardiology in Manchester in late September 1973 and Walloops got information that he would be sent to Ratnapura where there were no facilities at all. He tasked me to meet Atu at the airport and take him home with the advice not to report to work till he sorted something out which he did. Atu joined us as another Registrar. During George Rajapaksa’s time as the Minister of Health, we were re-designated Assistant Cardiologists at the suggestion of Walloops.

On his retirement on 6th June 1985, I succeeded Dr Wallooppillai after a much-publicised ‘Cardiology Stake’. For about a month, newspapers were full of articles as a trade union claimed that two others were more suited to the job but I ‘won the battle’ because I had the highest number of points according to the system of selection in place. Ultimately, it was left for President Jayewardene to check the tally in front of the Minister to make the decision, it was rumoured! Undeterred, the trade union continued with strikes and other trade union actions which led to an effective division of the unit in March 1987. I was appointed the Senior Cardiologist-in-charge of the Institute of Cardiology, the other two being appointed Cardiologists. I was given the option of early retirement which I took in April 1988 which opened a new era for me.

During all these turbulent times, Dr Wallooppillai was my ‘rock’. I could depend on him for advice and support in all matters. He taught me not only Cardiology but also how to fight for principles. He was like a second father to me. His wife, Yoges, who pre-deceased him, showered kindness. They had no children but brought up Yoges’ sister’s daughter, Mala, till she passed ‘O’ levels at Ladies College and returned to her family living in London.

What was most impressive to me about Walloops was his absolute honesty and integrity. He reinforced the values imparted to me by my parents. He was held in high esteem and held many high positions. He was the President of the Ceylon College of Physicians, President of the Sri Lanka Heart Association for many years and the President of the Orchid Circle. His hobby was growing orchids and his garden was filled with wonderful, rare blooms. However, most remarkable was his time as the President of the Sri Lanka Medical Association in 1980, when I was the Honorary Secretary. I have served many Presidents as Assistant Secretary and Secretary of SLMA but no one equals Walloops. The monthly council meetings were a pleasure to attend. There was no straying from the points under discussion and the meetings were crisp, concise and always finished on time.

Though shy by nature avoiding large gatherings and a man of a few words, paradoxically, he was a trade union leader too! He was the President of the Association of Medical Specialists for many years and demonstrated to other trade unionists that justice for members could be extracted without confrontation and trade union action like strikes, by using the art of diplomacy which he excelled in.

After leaving Sri Lanka, on every trip back home I never missed seeing him. It was sad to see him gradually developing heart failure following a silent heart attack. When I saw him in February 2010, I did not expect to see him again but to my surprise I saw him again in October the same year, seeing private patients in Healthcare Laboratories.

The day before his death, Mala rang me to get my address as ‘Appa’ wanted to send me a note. When I received it, after his death, I realised it was his Goodbye message.

If there an afterlife, Walloops is one colossus I would love to meet again. Until then Sir, pleasant memories of a great life of service to rich and poor alike!

 

 

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Opinion

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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