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OBITUARY
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 64  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 1422-1424

Professor Umesh Sawalaram Vengsarkar – A genius neurosurgeon (27th September, 1934 - 5th July, 2016)


Department of Neurosurgery, King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication11-Nov-2016

Correspondence Address:
Dattatraya Muzumdar
Department of Neurosurgery, King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, Maharashtra
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/0028-3886.193775

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How to cite this article:
Muzumdar D. Professor Umesh Sawalaram Vengsarkar – A genius neurosurgeon (27th September, 1934 - 5th July, 2016). Neurol India 2016;64:1422-4

How to cite this URL:
Muzumdar D. Professor Umesh Sawalaram Vengsarkar – A genius neurosurgeon (27th September, 1934 - 5th July, 2016). Neurol India [serial online] 2016 [cited 2019 Sep 15];64:1422-4. Available from: http://www.neurologyindia.com/text.asp?2016/64/6/1422/193775


Dr. Umesh Sawalaram Vengsarkar was born on September 27, 1934 in Mumbai. He completed his schooling and junior college in Mumbai. He graduated from Seth G.S. Medical College and King Edward VII Memorial hospital, Mumbai, in 1956. He completed his postgraduation M.S. (General Surgery) from the same college in 1960. He acquired his M.S. (Neurosurgery) from Christian Medical College and hospital (CMCH), Vellore, South India in 1964 under the tutelage of Professor Jacob Chandy. He belonged to an illustrious family of academicians. His father, Dr. Sawalaram Ganpat Vengsarkar was the Dean of KEM as well as BYL Nair medical college. His elder brother, Dr. Avinash Vengsarkar, retired as head of department of Cardiology, KEM hospital. His sister, Dr. Mrs. Suhasini Prabhu was the head of department of pathology in Nair hospital. Mrs. Pramila Umesh Vengsarkar, his wife, was the sister of Jnanpith award winner Marathi poet and English Professor, Mr. G.V. Karandikar.

Professor U.S. Vengsarkar was the first qualified M.S. (Neurosurgery) from Maharashtra state. After his return from Vellore, he joined his Alma mater, Seth G.S. Medical College and KEM hospital to pursue an academic career. However, his dream was shortlived. He was offered a three-year neurosurgery residency in Bellevue hospital Center, New York City under the direct supervision of Dr. Joseph Ransohoff, who was one of the foremost neurosurgeons of USA in those times. The residency program for Dr. Vengsarkar was recommended and arranged by Dr. Ilona Bubelis, the pathologist from USA, who was on deputation in KEM hospital to develop the Neuropathology program. Professor Vengsarkar successfully completed the neurosurgical residency being the chief resident at the St. Vincent hospital, New York.

After his return to India, he joined the NHL Medical College and Seth Vadilal Sarabai hospital, Ahmedabad as an Assistant Professor. He later came to Mumbai and continued to work as an Assistant Professor and Honorary Assistant Neurosurgeon at the T. N. Medical College and BYL Nair hospital from 1971 to 1977. He became the Professor and Head of Neurosurgery department at BYL Nair hospital in 1977 and held the position till 1992 when he retired. He also served as a Consultant Neurosurgeon to Sir Hurkisondas hospital and research center from 1971 till 2010. He was one of the founder members of Bombay Neurosciences Association [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Professor U.S. Vengsarkar

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Professor Vengsarkar was a hard taskmaster and a patient-care oriented doctor. He was a perfectionist to the core and was never satisfied till the job was done in the way that it needed to be done. He was an epitome of sincerity, discipline, and integrity in his clinical approach towards the patient, which was also evident in the operating room. His association with his students was akin to a “Guru-Shishya” relationship. He was convinced that passing the MCh exams was not enough and the teacher under whom neurosurgery training was imparted should bestow the final certification for clinical practice. He stressed upon the students the need for hard work, honesty, evaluation of failures, and introspection on a daily basis for attaining long-term success [Figure 2].
Figure 2: Professor Vengsarkar with his students and colleagues

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He was more of a surgical neurologist, an astute clinician. His anatomical knowledge was perfect. For him, the patient's history and clinical neurology were more important than ordering random investigations in arriving at a diagnosis. In those days, when radiological imaging was not developed, he had clinically diagnosed an “extramedullary spinal cord neurilemmoma as well as its vertebral level in a wife of a senior bureaucrat when other senior neurologists had failed to notice it. Ultimately, he operated upon her and she was relieved of her severe back pain and gait abnormality.

He had a special interest in the field of head injury, pediatric neurosurgery, cerebrovascular accidents, cervical and lumbar disc surgery, craniovertebral junction surgery, and trigeminal neuralgia. He had to his credit approximately 30 publications in reputed national and international journals. He received lifetime achievement awards from BYL Nair hospital, KEM hospital, and Neuroscientists Society of Gujarat for his contributions to the field of Neurosurgery in India and his selfless service and dedication as a Teacher, Friend, and Guide.

His surgical conduct was methodical and meticulous, almost appearing like a replay. He established the practice of stereotaxy in Mumbai, and was one of the first to perform an ablative procedure for Parkinson's disease in India. He was the pioneer in suggesting the use of thecoperitoneal shunt for holocord syringomyelia that was persistent following decompression of the craniovertebral junction.[1] His seminal work on the vexed problem of trigeminal neuralgia is known all over the neurosurgical fraternity. He used to perform Charles Frazier's selective trigeminal rhizotomy by the temporal approach and injection of absolute alcohol in the  Gasserian ganglion More Details in patients who were not favorably disposed towards surgery.[2] In 1980, Dr. G.M. Taori, an eminent neurophysician from Nagpur had witnessed a new technique being performed by Dr. William Sweet, Dr. Wespic, and Dr. Zervas at the Massachusetts General hospital in USA. He impressed upon Professor Vengsarkar the need to adopt this technique of selective radiofrequency thermocoagulation (RFTC) of the trigeminal root for relief of trigeminal neuralgia. He convinced him that the new technique would supersede open surgery over a period of time. Professor Vengsarkar accepted the suggestion and felt that, apart from the technological advances inherent in the procedure, it was a relatively simple and effective technique.[3],[4] Since then, he started using radiofrequency thermocoagulation as a primary treatment for patients who did not respond well to medical therapy and had a personal experience of over 2000 cases performed over twenty years. He had the largest experience of radiofrequency thermocoagulation for relief of trigeminal neuralgia during his career span. He commented that with the use of medication for trigeminal neuralgia, “timely intervention with the radiofrequency technique by radiofrequency generator, C-arm assistance and sevofluorane anesthesia, the management of trigeminal neuralgia has become safe, simple, effective, and most importantly, come within the range of a middle class Indian citizen.” He believed that the real answer to the state of demyelination is to activate the natural process of remyelination by implanting totipotent stem cells within the abnormal sensory root. He further stressed that, to achieve a natural cure for trigeminal neuralgia, it is possible to inject the stem cells into the root at the time of stimulation of the root during the radiofrequency lesioning.

He was a genius and a high level, thinking neurosurgeon. Apart from his academic and surgical accomplishments, he was a simple man with few needs. He was a living example of the phrase, “Simple living and high thinking.” Although he had a sound private practice, no one ever noticed him deliberating on the financial or commercial aspects of medical practice. In spite of being an honorary neurosurgeon, he used to devote more time in the BYL Nair hospital than his private clinic. In fact, he used to even cancel his private clinic appointments if he felt that his presence was required in Nair hospital beyond the stipulated time. With regard to monetary benefits, he professed that “money should be a byproduct of your practice and not the goal.” He had within him the heroism as well as restraint, conviction, philosophy, and compassion needed to be an able neurosurgeon.

As a person, he was holistic and highly philosophical … a rare blend, who would observe religion and religious practices with proper wisdom, reasoning, and deliberations. He was a “Karmayogi.” He opined that desires arose from sense organs. These very sense organs are instrumental in bringing about the satisfaction of those desires, which can deviate one from the real goals in life. The fulfillment in life lies in action, realization of our duties, and completion of those duties. He, therefore, stressed the importance of remaining focused on doing good and honest neurosurgery. He always used to say, “Death be not proud,” and that it should be celebrated like “birth” and “marriage.” He was witty and always used to have an apt one liner comment that conveyed his message. During his lifespan, he had been through insurmountable difficulties on both personal and professional fronts and took them as a challenge, putting on a brave effort to overcome them. He was an ardent follower of detachment in attachment. He could easily sense the “disillusionment” in the superficiality of life processes and was quick to notice the “real” goals in life. Even after a tragedy in his personal life, he conducted surgery on the next day since it was a preplanned procedure and he did not want to inconvenience the patient or his family. He had a keen interest and passion for classical Marathi music and it was a pleasure listening to him perform extempore in between surgeries and during his leisure time.

The neurosurgical fraternity associated with him, especially his students, will nurture his memories, and be forever indebted to this Master Clinician-Philosophical Neurosurgeon and a “Genuine Apolitical Karmayogi.”

Acknowledgements

  • Mrs. Lopamudra Warang, (daughter of Professor U.S. Vengsarkar)
  • Dr. Sushil Patkar, Consultant Neurosurgeon, Poona Hospital and Research Centre, Pune
  • Students and colleagues of Professor Vengsarkar.


 
  References Top

1.
Vengsarkar US, Panchal VG, Tripathi PD, Patkar SV, Agarwal A, Doshi PK, Kamat MM. Percutaneous thecoperitoneal shunt for syringomyelia. Report of three cases. J Neurosurg 1991;74:827-31.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Vengsarkar US, Mokashi YB, Bhatjiwale MG. Middle fossa decompression of the trigeminal sensory root for trigeminal neuralgia - A re-appraisal and a modification of the technique. Br J Neurosurg. 1995;9:743-8.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Vengsarkar US. Trigeminal neuralgia. Neurosurgery 1991;29:635  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Vengsarkar US. Trigeminal neuralgia. Br J Neurosurg 1991;5:437.  Back to cited text no. 4
    


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