Two pioneer doctors in Kerala turn 90 as India celebrates Doctors' Day

As the National Doctor’s Day is being celebrated on July 1, two guiding lights in the medical profession would be crossing the milestone of 90 years of age. Dr Mathew Varghese, the first superintendent of Kottayam Medical College and Dr George Jacob, who set up the Cardiology Department at the Medical College and is its former head.

The quick decision-maker

Dr Mathew Varghese was known his ability to take taking quick decisions. An incident involving a leading businessman in Kottayam sheds lights on this aspect of his personality.

The businessman suffered severe fractures to his ribs in a road accident 40 years ago. He was brought to the Kottayam Medical College. His condition was so bad that it was not certain whether he would survive even after surgery. However, as soon as he saw the patient, Dr Varghese said, “He should be subjected to tracheostomy.” Tracheostomy is a process, which involves making a hole in the neck to insert a tube into the trachea to enable breathing, is usually suggested after elaborate discussions and thought.

But Dr Varghese took the decision in seconds and the patient was operated upon after tracheostomy. Incidentally, the businessman is still alive and is keeping good health. Students of the good doctor can relate several other cases which display his ability to overcome such unexpected crisis situations.

Dr Mathew Varghese Kurudamannil, who earned a name world over for conducting a surgery on the pancreas, celebrated his 90th birthday on June 16. On that day, several eminent doctors reached his house to greet him despite the lockdown. They included Dr Jose Tom, former principal of Kottayam Medical College; Dr P G R Pillai and Dr Tigi Thomas.

Dr Varghese did his MBBS at Stanley Medical College, Madras in 1947. He also took an MS and went to England to pursue an FRCS course. He subsequently returned to Kerala and joined the government service as assistant professor at Trivandrum Medical College. Later, he went to the US for further studies.

He also served at Kozhikode Medical College before taking up the post of superintendent at Kottayam Medical College in 1968. As superintendent, he was tasked with shifting the medical college from Kottayam General Hospital to the new premises at Arpookkara. In 1970, Dr Varghese led the efforts for this shifting.

Old colleagues still recall Dr Varghese for his genial nature. He is never known to have lost his temper, according to them.

After his retirement from government service in 1986, Dr Varghese has been leading a quiet life near Chemmanampady, Arpookkara, where his old students often call on him.

Dr Varghese’s wife is Marykutty and the couple has four children. They are Varghese Mathew, an engineer in the USA; Dr Mathew Kurien, an ENT specialist in England; Dr Mathew George, a surgeon in the USA and Dr John Mathew, a surgeon in England. Their spouses are, Anupa, an architect in the USA; Dr Mini, a pathologist in England; Munna, who is in the USA ; and Dr Kshema, a dentist in England.

First cardiologist in Central Travancore

Dr George Jacob joined the MBBS course after leaving agriculture and engineering. He had initially joined the Agricultural University in Allahabad after the pre-university course but was selected for the engineering course at Kolkata. Soon after he joined the Engineering College in Kolkata, the young George received a letter regarding admission to the MBBS course in the Medical College at Kolkata itself. George had no hesitation in leaving engineering for medicine.

He soon earned the honour of being the first doctor from the Pullolikkal family of Kothala in Pambady, Kottayam. There are 34 doctors in the family now. He also became the first cardiologist in Central Travancore.

Dr Jacob is celebrating his 90th birthday on July 7.

His students recall that the doctor never called a sick person ‘patient’. “What is this gentleman suffering from?” was his usual query.

Students still learn from the examples set by Dr Jacob in his life. A pleasing personality who always maintained a smile, the doctor started his teaching career at Christian Medical College, Vellore after earning his MBBS degree from Calcutta University. His post was that of Registrar in Cardiology and General Medicine. After working in Vellore from 1955 to 1960, Dr Jacob went to England and acted as the registrar in the Cardiology Department at University of Bristol till 1964.

He then returned to Kerala, taking up the post of assistant professor in the Department of General Medicine at Kottayam Medical College. When the Cardiology Department was started in Kottayam in 1970, Dr Jacob became its first professor and head.

It was following Dr Jacob’s efforts that specialized treatment of heart diseases was started in Kottayam and facilities such as echo lab and cardiac catheterization were set up in Kottayam Medical College.

Dr Jacob also worked at Caritas Hospital in Kottayam before leading a retired life at his house in Samkranthi in the town.

Dr Jacob’s wife Dr Mary George is the first anaesthetist at Kottayam Medical College. Their children are, Deepa George; Dr Thomas George, a cardiologist at Caritas Hospital and Dr Anila George, a paediatrician in the USA. George Paul based in New Delhi; Sneha Thomas and Dr Ajith Thomas, a neurologist in the USA are Dr Jacob’s children-in-law.

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