Jack Preger: Doc on the block. Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty

Jack Preger: Doc on the block. Photo: Ashoke Chakrabarty   | Photo Credit: Ashoke Chakrabarty

Octogenarian doctor, Jack Preger, has been treating the poor and alleviating their pain for over four decades, now.

He wears a perpetual smile, and at 86, has a resolute spirit. Jack Preger’s transition from farmer to doctor is a rare and riveting story.

Preger was born on July 25, 1930, in Manchester, England. He graduated from St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, with a post-graduate degree in economics and political science after which he worked as a farmer.

One day in 1965, 35-year old Preger was driving his tractor on a remote cliff side in Wales spreading manure, when he felt an inexplicable urge to become a medical doctor. At that time he had no interest in medicine, and follow this through would mean that he would have to sell his farm and he would have to find a place in medical school. His whole life was going to be turned upside down!

As the days passed, finding no way to rid himself of the thought of becoming a doctor, he enrolled as a mature student at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin, Ireland. When he was 42 years old, he completed his internship.

In 1972, he heard an appeal on radio for doctors in the newly independent Bangladesh. He found his way to Dhaka and began working in refugee camps where people spoke only Urdu. He learnt Urdu and later Bengali. In 1975, he set up a 90-bed clinic in Dhaka and two farms in the outskirts of the city.

But his work in Dhaka was short-lived. He stumbled on a child smuggling racket being operated by a Dutch NGO. He exposed it and, for all his pains, he was deported to Bangkok in 1979. Despite the goodwill he had won, he recalls, “When I was deported, not a single person came to see me off at the airport!” The Dhaka clinic he had set up for mothers and babies was shut down.

He then came to India and worked in Kolkata for six months under Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity whose inadequate conditions he criticised. “If one wants to give love, understanding and care, one uses sterile needles. Many of the dying there do not have to be dying in a strictly medical sense,” he said. Preger thought that he would be able to do more if he was able to work on his own and he started a clinic for the poor below the flyover connecting the Howrah Bridge. He called his clinic Calcutta Rescue. He requested a work permit, which ultimately was not given.

He registered Calcutta Rescue as a charity in 1991, after which, he started two more clinics, two schools and two vocational centres that employs 150 local staff. He got a resident’s permit. Support Groups for the work of Preger have been formed in several other countries, mostly spurred on by tourists returning home, who had witnessed his selfless work.

However, the government refused to grant him the clearance needed to accept foreign donations. Preger then sued the government in Kolkata’s courts, winning the case and being allowed to accept 1.5 million rupees per month in donations. Preger also runs a handicraft centre and a weaving centre that makes gauze and dressing pads, which are used in his clinics. In 1993, he was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his “continued perseverance and incredible selflessness”. His life is being documented in Doctor Jack — One Man, One Life, One Fight, by Swiss photojournalist Benoit Lange.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 12:26:29 PM |

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