Dr AK Sharma, pioneer of modern surgery, no more

- Manish Gautam, Kathmandu
Dr AK Sharma, pioneer of modern surgery, no more

Oct 8, 2014-Dr Anjani Kumar Sharma, Nepal’s first surgeon and a pioneer in the field of cancer care, died on Tuesday night at his residence in Mitrapark, Chabahil. He was 86. His son Dr Sunil Sharma confirmed his death due to lower uretar cancer.

Dr Anajani Kumar, also known as Dr AK Sharma amongst his peers, played a crucial role in the advancement of surgery in Nepal, and led the surgery departments of two prominent government hospitals-- Bir Hospital and Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, for over three decades.

He is mostly remembered for his unwavering efforts and campaigns to ban tobacco products and raise taxes to curb their use, which he continued until his last moment of his life.

He also played a leading role in the establishment of Bhaktapur Cancer Hospital, governed by the Nepal Cancer Relief Society (NCRS) where he also served as the founding vice president for seven years. Besides his lifelong crusade against tobacco and cancer, he also authored a number of books, including Cancer Chetana, a layman’s guide to cancer.  

Initially, Dr Anjani Kumar ran a day-care service with 15 beds at the Bhakatpur Cancer Hospital. Today, the hospital has emerged as the premier cancer care centre of Nepal.

“He was our guardian,” said Lokendra Shrestha, president of NCRS. “He never accepted any salary from the hospital. We used to pay him token allowance.”

Born on June 7, 1928 at Bhaluwahi in Siraha district, Dr Anjani Kumar wanted to enter the medical field since his early days.  The death of his mother due to lack of proper medical attention hardened his determination. He completed his MBBS in Calcutta Medical College in 1955 and pursued a course at Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons before returning to Nepal as the first surgeon of the country.

In 1962, Dr Anjani Kumar established and led the surgery department at Bir Hospital. His colleague, Dr Dinesh Raj Gongol, joined him months later. The two doctors are credited for introducing modern surgery in Nepal. During the 1960s, Nepal had a few MBBS doctors, let alone a qualified surgeon. Dr AKS and Dr Gongol were among the first doctors in the country to conduct surgery. Occasionally, doctors from India used to visit the hospital to perform complex surgeries.

During that period people who needed surgery would seek medical attention very late and often times they were left to die due to unavailability of treatment, remembered Dr Sudip Kumar Bhattacharya, who worked with Dr Anjani Kumar for over two decades.  “Dr Anjani Kumar and his team helped people get better health access at their homes. He is indeed the father of modern surgery,” said Dr Bhattacharya.

Friends and family describe Dr Anjani Kumar as an effusive person who had a good sense of humour and a sharp repartee. His family friends remember one incident where he had introduced his son Dr Sunil, who had just returned to Nepal after completing his MBBS in Madras at the time, to a group of professors from the UK as a “mockery of medical profession”.

“Everyone laughed in the room with that introduction,” remembered Dr Sunil, who is currently a surgeon at Kathmandu Medical College. In the peak of his career, Dr Anjani Kumar was close to both BP Koirala and King Birendra Shah. He was a royal surgeon and, at the same time, friends with Koirala, who was then seen as a political dissident. He had to take the king’s permission to see Koirala,

“Dr Anjani Kumar was an icon in the field of Nepal’s medical field. He was a great individual, personally and professionally. He helped shape professional career of many young surgeons. He must have been a role model for many of them,” said Dr. Shishir Lakhey, professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at KMC, who worked as house officer under Dr Anjani Kumar at TUTH in 1990.

Dr Anjani Kumar is also among first people to run private hospital in the country. He opened Annapurna Nursing Home in circa 1971 at Baghbazaar. During his years in private practice, he was often criticised for being “money-minded” and spending more hours treating patients at his private clinic. But many of his juniors and colleagues refute these claims. They said he was available round the clock to observe patients admitted in government hospitals as well.

He is survived by his wife Annapurna, a daughter and two sons.

Published: 09-10-2014 09:03

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