Susantha – Boy from the Rural Hamlet

Susantha – Boy from the Rural Hamlet

Kadawathamaduwa is a remote village in Polonnaruwa bordering the Eastern Province of Sri Lanka. In the early hours of 29th May 1987, the terrorists in Eastern Province invaded this village from their jungle hide-outs armed with weapons, knives, swords etc. The villagers were attacked ruthlessly.  They had shot and chopped them up with their knives and swords and killed the innocent villagers at random. Many had died on the spot with serious injuries. The dead and the survivors were brought to the Polonnaruwa Hospital early morning. Among them was a small boy named Susantha whose tale of woe I would now relate.

Shot by the Terrorists

Susantha was a 5-year old boy. He was the eldest child in a farming family of two children, living in this remote hamlet. Susantha’s mother was killed on the spot and his sister suffered major facial injuries with the loss of one eye. The father escaped unhurt. Susantha was admitted to the hospital with gunshot injuries caused by a bullet going through his belly and spine. That day I was away in Colombo. Susantha had been bleeding into the abdominal cavity as the bullet had penetrated the abdominal cavity. He needed emergency surgery.

Susantha after surgery

Ajita saves his Life

In my absence my colleague Dr Ajita Wijesundere, the Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at the Polonnaruwa Hospital was informed about the critical condition of Susantha. He decided to perform an emergency operation on the child to save his life. The abdomen was opened up and the bleeding from a damaged blood vessel close to the appendix was arrested. Thanks to the timely intervention and the judicious decision taken by Ajita to operate on him, his life was saved.

More Problems for Susantha

However, that was not the end of the story for Susantha. He had other problems as well. The terrorist bullet had also hit the lower part of his spine on its way-out causing some form of damage to the lower spinal cord and the nerve roots as evidenced by the of weakness of his lower limbs. An X ray of his spine, the only investigation available, showed damage to a lumbar vertebra and I suspected that there may be fragments of bone pressing on his spinal cord and the nerve roots rather than an injury to the cord itself. This required a second operation and a major one too.

Major Surgery on the Spine

That was to operate on his lumbar spine and relieve the pressure on the spinal cord and the nerve roots by removing fragments of bone pressing on the spinal cord following the bullet injury. This operation called “laminectomy” is usually done by a Neurosurgeon or an Orthopaedic surgeon. In the absence of such specialists, I undertook the task with confidence as I had seen and assisted such operations before during my training in Orthopaedic surgery. The operation was performed. Fragments of bone pressing on the spinal cord and nerve roots were removed. That relieved his symptoms to a great extent and he regained power on his left lower limb and the upper part of his right lower limb. He was left with a weakness on his right leg below the knee joint with loss of sensation in this region causing a “foot drop” and required a splint to support the foot.

Susantha walking with the aid of crutches

Helpless & Destitute

That was not the end of his problems either. He had no one to care for him as he had lost his mother. His father escaped without injury, but he too was displaced from their makeshift home in the village and was without a job; no income and helpless. The villagers who were unhurt and the Army supported him for some time.

Long Hospital Stay

We could not discharge him from hospital as he had no home to go to and had not recovered fully. He needed rehabilitation with crutches, splints etc. The hospital staff came to know about this poor helpless child, now a destitute. The word spread elsewhere in the town as well. He had many visitors who gave him various gifts to keep him happy. In the mean time I contacted a journalist and got an article published in the Sinhala newspaper about the child’s perilous state asking for donations to help him. Many responded with generous financial donations and this included contributions from those living abroad.  A savings account was opened at the Bank of Ceylon, Polonnaruwa to deposit this money. His immediate requirements which could not be supplied by the hospital were purchased from money in this account. This made his life more comfortable. He had no relations,  no  friends  from  the  village,  no  family, no one to  care  except  those  in  hospital  who  gradually  began to adopt him. His hospital stay was prolonged in view of the injuries he had suffered.

I leave Polonnaruwa on Transfer

At this stage I left the Polonnaruwa Hospital as I was transferred to Gampaha. By then Susantha had spent nearly one year in that surgical ward. I had no option but to hand over the care of the child to the staff of the hospital. That was a sad day for me because I did not know what the future would hold for him. There was no surgeon as well after my departure from Polonnaruwa to treat him. I used to check his condition regularly over the phone.

Complications set in, No Surgeon at Polonnaruwa Hospital

I lost contact with him for some time. Subsequently, I learnt that he had developed a large ulcer in his right foot and leg as a result of the loss of sensation to that part of the lower limb. This did not heal. As there was no surgeon in Polonnaruwa he was transferred to the Children’s hospital in Colombo where his leg was amputated below the knee. On recovery, he was taken up for adoption at an Orphanage close to Sri Jayawardenapura General Hospital (SJGH) where he spent several years. He required an artificial leg (prosthesis) so that he could walk and this too was provided for him by a well wisher.

June 1999 – Establish contact with me

He had not forgotten me and had inquired about me from various sources which I came to know later. He persevered until one fine day he found the correct contact.  That was in June 1999 when he was travelling in a bus and had a conversation with a nurse. The nurse had informed Susantha that I was working at the same hospital that she is employed and that was SJGH. Susantha was happy and was determined to visit me. That was about 11 years after I left Polonnaruwa.

Comes to SJGH to Meet Me

After obtaining permission from the Matron of the Orphanage he visited SJGH and came to my ward one morning walking with an artificial limb. He approached me and asked  “Sir, can you remember me”. I was unable to recognise him at first, but later realised it was Susantha, the boy from Kadawathamaduwa who was shot by the terrorists. I identified him from the tell-tale scars on his back after the operation on his spine done in 1987. He was now 17 years of age and unemployed. I promised to find employment for him.

Employment at SJGH

I approached the Chairman of SJGH, Mr. Chandima Silva, and related the story of Susantha to him and appealed to him to get him a job at the hospital. After listening to me patiently he wanted to meet Susantha. Thereafter the Chairman who was sympathetic towards Susantha decided to give employment at the Hospital on a temporary basis. Susantha accepted the offer and took up the job as a laborer on a temporary basis and after one year was confirmed in service as an attendant.

Discharged from Orphanage

At that point I met the Matron of the Children’s Home and got him discharged from the Home as he had gained employment. Susantha paid tribute to the Matron, worshiped her for caring for him for such a long time. I brought him home. My parents on hearing his plight decided to provide accommodation to him in their home in Colombo from where he used to travel to his place of work for quite some time. He remained there till he found lodging elsewhere close to the hospital.

Susantha the boy from Kadawathamaduwa whom I met 33 years ago remains well and happy although walking with an artificial limb. Today he is employed at The Sri Jayewardenapura General Hospital on a permanent basis. He is a lucky young man who has survived many a catastrophe and is a part of my family today.

(Susantha wanted his identity preserved when I got his consent for this story)

Dear Reader, you might be interested to read the next story about an interesting incident, where I had to take the important decision of whom to treat first : ‘POLITICIAN AND SECRETARY INJURED BY A GRENADE BLAST’

Please feel free to share story this with your friends :

22 thoughts on “Susantha – Boy from the Rural Hamlet

  1. My friend Indika Wettasinghe told me to read this article and I must say it was a very interesting story

  2. What it means to be a Surgeon in a hospital in a remote area. Its a god given vocation executed to the fullest with dedication.
    Dr. GG a role model for aspiring Surgeons. Comply & Complain & move on. Follow your instincts with the welfare of the patient in mind.

  3. A heartwarming story with a happy ending…. but let’s spare a thought for the thousands of other innocent men, women and children who were caught up in the war but were less fortunate than Susantha. Dr G G is an inspirational role model for young aspiring surgeons. He has shown that working as a doctor in rural Sri Lanka can be very challenging but immenseky rewarding. looking forward to your next blog.

  4. You have gone far beyond the call of duty Gamini in fact gone not just the 2nd mile but much more. God Bless you

  5. Hell Hi Doctor.. I am prasath on of ur patient.. U are not a doctor.. U are a god.. When u touch ur hand with me in early 2001.. There after only I can had my foods in proper way its going properly in to my stomach.. Thanks a lot doctor..
    The surgery which is u did for me.. Its a grade job. The doctors who are working in Europes they can’t belive the job which is u done for me..
    The doctors in Europes also they said u are a genius In the whole world

  6. The more i read such stories, the more i wonder what a ‘day in the life’ of a Surgeon would be especially those working in remote hospitals sans facilities,equipment and drugs! Dedicated Surgeons of the calibre or Dr GG are rare and patients who have had their good fortune of his TLC must be eternally grateful.I pray that there will be more Doctors (not only Surgeons) of his calibre for the benefit of our 21+ million population!

    1. Warren Solomonsz
      Thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate it very much. Not only working as a surgeon in remote areas but also healing has given me extreme happiness. I am in contact with many such patients including Mr. Banku from Polonnaruwa. Talking to them makes them happy too!.
      Best wishes
      Gamini Goonetilleke

  7. Gamini,
    I follow your stories. I hope young aspirants, in the specialty reading them, will get inspired to work in the periphery. Keep inspiring.

  8. Dear Nadi & Ajith
    Thank you very much for your comment which I appreciate very much. Yes, it is an emotional story and many people who have read this story had the same impression.
    Best wishes
    Gamini Goonetilleke

  9. Heart touhing story ..
    My eyes were filled with tears Sir.
    This is not only a surgeon’s role , you have done your job considering multiple aspects of someone’s life…Absolutely it is a hollistic approach of care.
    You have blessings always protect you Sir

  10. Dedication to the Profession and Love for Humanity displayed to the maximum.
    Well done Doctor
    God Bless you

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: