Society

The life story of a neurosurgeon

TRAILBLAZER: Consultant Neurosurgeon Dr.M.J. Arun Kumar, who is also the Founder Chairman & Managing Director of Hannah Joseph Hospital, Madurai. Photo: S. James   | Photo Credit: mamp06cover

When seasoned actor Nasser's son Faisal met with a gruesome road accident on ECR Road, Chennai, two summers ago, it made headlines. The horrific car crash left three young boys dead and inflicted grievous injuries on two others. On May 22, 2014, life was uncertain for the critically injured Faisal.

Twenty months later in January 2016, Faisal travelled for the first time after the accident to Madurai. Besides his parents, the happiest person to watch him eat on his own, speak a few words and sit up with minimum support was an established neurosurgeon, Dr.M.J.Arunkumar, from our very own Temple Town. From September 2014, Faisal has been under the care of Dr.Arunkumar who visits him on weekends in Chennai and keeps account of his progress through whatsapp, chats and telemedicine.

A brain surgeon, Dr.Arunkumar, 49, established the Hannah Joseph Hospital, a 40 bed state-of-the-art complex devoted to Neurosurgery, Neurology, Psychiatry and Trauma, in April 2008. But his knowledge of brain science includes two decades of clinical practice at CMC Vellore and Apollo Hospitals, Madurai. And he says, he is thankful for every single day when he is able to save lives.

"We all tend to take our lives for granted whereas our lives can be gone in an instant," says Dr.Arun, reminding how frail we are.

More than Arun, it was his father, a bank manager in Thanjavur, who was interested in making a doctor out of his son. "In my childhood, I was happy with my studies, playing hockey and singing in the church choir," he says.

But there were two things unique about him. He had a penchant for rushing to any accident site to look at the victim and was naturally proficient in dissecting animals. "I enjoyed cleaning and cutting the chicken bought for cooking at home and my parents would discourage me saying I would become a butcher!."

But, believes Dr.Arun, knives, needles and scalpels always added grace to his fingers! "Brain and human behaviour always fascinated me and I made up my mind early on that I wanted to be a surgeon," he says.

With a drive to take on the toughest challenges, neurosurgery -- ranked next to rocket science those days -- became his obvious choice at CMC Vellore, where he also completed his MBBS. Dr.Arun gives full credit to his pioneering teachers -- Dr.M.Jacob Chandy and Dr.B.Ramamoorthy -- for shaping his mind, attitude and consciousness.

"They flushed me with tremendous confidence to unpack the science behind the theories on brain and the power over our health," he says.

Neurosurgery is not limited to just the brain but the entire nervous system, including the spine. With his prolific lateral thinking, Dr.Arun was drawn into research and writing papers in scientific journals. He postulated his own theories and received excellent peer reviews. "The time was perfectly fantastic for me as I was credited with the highest number of articles published by any student in India."

In 2000, when he joined the Apollo Speciality Hospitals in Madurai, to establish the neurosurgery department, little did he know that the hometown of his wife -- a psychiatrist by profession -- would one day become his operating base and change his life.

With the distinction of having performed the first endonasal total excision of pituitary tumour and the first intracranial aneurysm clipping in South Tamil Nadu, Dr.Arun dreams of making Madurai the ultimate destination for neurosciences.

Patients with cancer in their brains and haemorrhages or bleeding in the brain cavity are brought to him for emergency surgeries with much hope. "It is gratifying to know that I save lives," he says, claiming 95 per cent success rate in traumatic head injuries.

Without meaning in a vain or egotistical way, Dr.Arun declares that at Hannah Joseph Hospital, he is able to pull out eight out of every 10 patients. This means he also gets lot of referred cases and can never keep his phone switched off. "If I do not answer calls, my patient will die," he says, adding, "I do not turn away patients either." Even while holidaying with his family, Dr.Arun skypes with his staff on each patient's progress. "I feel unhappy if any of my patient reports unwell."

In corporate sector, feels Dr.Arun, target-based surgery linked to revenue leads to unethical practices and non-transparent work culture. "It adds to the stress levels of the doctors," he says. He follows the CMC work model at his centre. "I want to run it like an institute and not like a private hospital. We have developed a system where we work as a team and I have the luxury of being assisted by two neurosurgeons, two anaesthetists, a scrub nurse and her assistant and a dozen PG students."

He has done surgeries which have lasted 16 hours. When such patients keep in touch for years after, Dr.Arun says, he realises how amazing it is to be able to help people regain their lives.

From his first surgery as a resident doctor for removing haematoma (blood clot) at CMC Vellore, Dr.Arun has lost count of the simple and complicated surgeries that he has done over the years. "I perform over 200 surgical procedures a year but even if one patient dies, it does not get easier," he says. Thankfully, this sort of thing is few and far between at Hannah Joseph Hospital which saw 200 surgeries last year including 50 complicated ones and lost two patients.

"The anaesthetist loves me because I am very fast in surgery," he smiles. "My surgical skills are flawless too but complications arise due to spasms in the brain or some other surgery-unrelated parameter," points out Dr.Arun.

He feels blessed to have the education and experience in surgery and neuro-intensive care. "The minute I look at a patient, I know what he/she needs and do quick thinking," he says.

It is the innate confidence that is now leading him to establish his second hospital which will be a standalone largest private hospital in neurosciences with 150 beds, three ICUs with 12 beds each, four state-of-the-art operation theatres and a helipad.

In four years, Dr.Arunkumar hopes to be on top of resuscitation to be able to reverse a patient's cycle of death. Most doctors don't have the time to explain to their patients but Dr.Arunkumar with his wry humour and reassurance showers all his attention on them. Still when people call him heartless and amazingly honest, he knows he is so for the good of his patients.

Known for refusing awards, Dr.Arunkumar believes his religion is his practice and he does charity by giving discounts to needy patients.

"Your earnings do not secure your future," he says, "but the goodwill you earn does."

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 14, 2020 4:36:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/The-life-story-of-a-neurosurgeon/article14304527.ece

Next Story