Gerrit BrasBMJ 2008; 336 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39552.447928.BE (Published 17 April 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:896
- Tony Sheldon
As a 28 year old junior doctor, Gerrit Bras got to understand his later specialty of pathology the hard way after surrendering to the Japanese during the second world war. He treated his fellow prisoners of war, working on the infamous Burma railway, for cholera, beriberi, malaria, and dysentery. Despite appalling conditions and the most primitive self-made medical equipment, he saved many lives, earning the nickname “Dr Cholera.”
Bras was born in Java in 1913 in the then colonial world of the Dutch East Indies. His father supervised forestry work so Bras played in Java’s forests, gaining practical knowledge that held him in good stead in later years. In 1939 he qualified at the Batavia, now Jakarta, medical school, before studying pathology and anatomy. He met his wife, Puck Bitter, and the two began careers in medical research, studying parasitic worms about which they intended to write their doctoral theses.
Life changed abruptly on 7 December 1941, when Japan attacked the US base at Pearl Harbour and entered the second world war. Bras was called up to serve as a medical officer in the Royal …