An institution to drive away the dreaded disease is his vision

Orthopaedic surgeon Balu Sankaran to receive Padma Vibhushan He got Padma Shri in 1972 for the care and rehabilitation provided to soldiers injured in Bangladesh war

He's been one of the country's leading orthopaedic surgeons for more than five decades. But the quest for innovation has not eroded Dr. Balu Sankaran, a winner of Padma Shri award in 1972, and Padma Vibhushan this year, even at the age of 81.

In a freewheeling chat with R. Vimal Kumar in his residence in the heart of the town, Dr. Balu Sankaran `unveils' his vision of setting up an institution in Tuticorin to rehabilitate patients with deformities owing to leprosy.

The founder-chairman of Artificial Limbs Corporation of India at Kanpur Dr Sankaran was instrumental in setting up the National Institute of Rehabilitation Training and Research (NIRTAR) at Olatpur in Orissa in 1975.

Dr. Sankaran chose an `ill-utilized' hospital building in that village to establish the institute, which he referred to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as a `diamond lying in the dust in Orissa, which needed to be picked and polished'.

"Fortunately, Ms. Gandhi immediately gave me green signal and thus NIRTAR was set up in Orissa," Dr. Sankaran fondly recollects.

During a visit to NIRTAR on December 27, 2005, President Abdul Kalam had commended the pioneering work of Dr. Sankaran, which resulted in the establishment of the institute.

He got Padma Shri in 1972 for the trauma care and rehabilitation provided to soldiers injured in 1971 Bangladesh war, while posted at Safdarjung Hospital.

Dr. Sankaran's book titled `Osteoporosis' was released by Manmohan Singh, when he was the Opposition Leader. His another important work was `Essential Surgery in fractures and dislocations'.

He was one of the first doctors from the country to perform reconstructive surgeries on polio affected persons.

His contributions to the research sector, including the in-depth study on 1,000 citizens, aged above 60 years, for the measurement of their limbs and bones to help the manufacture of implants to suit the Indian conditions, received accolades from across the globe.

Still in form

Dr. Sankaran, who has visited 86 countries, still finds time to share his wisdom with other doctors and allocates time for consultancy at St. Stephen's hospital in New Delhi, where he serves as an Emeritus Professor since 1987, after his return from the World Health Organisation in Geneva, as its Director.

Married to Sukanya, a native of Tuticorin, the doctor is getting ready to receive Padma Vibhushan from the President, next month.