Jacob Cherian

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 01 December 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a2736
  1. P T Cherian,
  2. O J Cherian

    A surgeon where there had been none

    Jacob Cherian both established and directed over 12 public institutions that treat at least 1600 patients every day, educate about 5500 students at any one time, and have improved the lives of more than 200 000 people. But two points make this achievement unique. Firstly, it all happened in rural south India, where there was no doctor within a 30 mile radius when he arrived. Secondly, it was entirely selfless: he never had a personal bank account. For his life long crusade against poverty and global improvement of poor people in this region, he was awarded India’s highest civilian honour: the Padma Bhushan in 1999.

    Jacob was the third son of a priest (who was the longest serving priest in the Guinness book of world records). Against the odds, sometimes by sheer effort—walking the 12 miles to school—and at other times because of charity, he gained himself an education and ultimately a medical degree from Calcutta in 1956. He then with his new bride, Mary, sailed to England. They trained for three years in Britain, Mary specialising in paediatrics, and Jacob in cardiothoracic surgery. They gained the membership and fellowship of their respective royal colleges by exam, and returned to make a difference in the village they had already chosen, forsaking personal fortune and fame in England to return to a dusty nowhere.

    In the early 1950s as medical students they had had a dream, which they later shared with the women they married, in a village called Ambilikai, which had been shown to them by one of Gandhi’s followers. …

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