The ‘infant boy’ from a remote village, whose life was saved through surgery for a ‘blocked’ stomach 36 years ago, is a friend now!
Chamika Nishad Weerakkody is a 36 year old Draughtsman working in Moneragala. He had been following my YouTube videos and gathered my phone number from the website (drgamini.org). Subsequently a WhatsApp message was sent to me on 6th February 2022, inquiring as to whether I was working at the Polonnaruwa Hospital in the’80s. He said my name was familiar to him as his parents had mentioned it on several occasions, indicating that I was the surgeon who saved his life through surgery at the Polonnaruwa Hospital, when he was just one month old. I confirmed it; further WhatsApp messages, calls, voice messages and sharing of photographs followed. The true story emerged subsequently.
WhatsApp message sent to me on 6th February 2022
Chamika, hails from the remote village of Aralaganvila in the Polonnaruwa District. He was born on 8th November 1986. The parents had no option but to admit the ‘infant boy’ to the Polonnaruwa hospital exactly a month later, as he could not retain the only nutrition; milk suckled at his mother’s breast and vomiting after every feed. I happened to be the surgeon at this hospital at that time and it was my responsibility to care for the ‘infant boy’ in my ward. That was 36 years ago, but that incident remains in my memory, even today.
In the absence of specialised investigations at this hospital with very basic facilities, I had to make a clinical diagnosis based on the symptoms and signs. There was no doubt in my mind that the boy was suffering from a congenital condition caused by a ‘block’ at the outlet of the stomach, due to a thickening of the muscle in that region. This problem is referred to in medical parlance as congenital hypertrophic pyloric stenosis. Delay in treatment would no doubt lead to dehydration, malnutrition and possible death.
Surgery, the only option
After resuscitating the ill infant, I decided to perform surgery under general anaesthesia. Surgery entailed the division of the thick muscle at the outlet of the stomach to relieve the obstruction. This procedure called ‘Ramstedt’s operation’, is usually performed by paediatric surgeons. Thirty six years ago, I as the only general surgeon at that hospital, had to accept the challenge and perform that role, to relieve the suffering of infant Chamika.
Infant Chamika after surgery
“I did the operation, God healed him”
The infant recovered and was breast feeding vigorously the next day to the delight of the parents, staff and everyone else in the hospital. Subsequently, he made good progress and later on, I was made to understand that he developed like any other child to reach adulthood; and his present position as a Draughtsman.
The value of photographs
From my early days as a surgeon, I was in the habit of taking photographs of patients suffering from various surgical conditions. I had not missed the opportunity of taking a photograph of ‘infant Chamika’ and when he inquired from me about the ’80s I was able to send his photograph taken after surgery on 11th December 1986 to him, to the surprise of everyone in his family. In return, he sent some of his childhood photos to me, which I have used to illustrate this story.
Reflecting on my past work
As I reflect on my clinical work of over four decades as a surgeon in Sri Lanka, time and again I have encountered such stories regarding contact established between a patient and a surgeon, long years after that initial encounter in hospital. These stories have given me immense pleasure and happiness which no money can buy and undoubtedly something which those in the medical profession can be proud of!
This is but just one of the incidences I have experienced, in making contact or keeping in touch with patients I have operated on or cured of their injuries or ailments with the grace of God.
Dear Reader, If you like to read the previous topic on the Surgical section please click the link: REPLACING A BURNT GULLET