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Professor James Randunna Corea

Family members and Friends, Colleagues and Patients are all still reeling with shock at the sudden unexpected demise of Prof. James Randunna Corea. It is hard to believe that this dynamic and brilliant surgeon, who made an indelible impact on all he met, is no longer with us.

Randunna received his education at S Thomas' College Mt. Lavinia and entered the Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya as the first pioneering batch in 1962. He graduated in 1967, and soon developed an interest in surgery. He proceeded to the UK and obtained his FRCS England in 1975. He selected Orthopaedics as his speciality probably influenced by the fact that he had sustained a fracture of his forearm bones as a teenager, while playing polo and been impressed by the skilful management of the orthopaedic surgeon who treated him. He obtained, his Masters Degree in Orthopaedics from the University of Liverpool in 1979, and his FRCS Orthopaedics from the Royal College of Edinborough in 1980.

Thereafter Randunna decided to relocate to Saudi Arabia where he joined the department of orthopaedics at the King Faisal University Hospital. His outstanding ability as a surgeon and teacher, as well as his research work and publications in peer review journals soon elevated him to the position of Professor and head of department, which post he held till his demise in April 2008.

Though he worked for long years outside Sri Lanka, Randunna never lost his yearning to serve his motherland. Realizing that corrective surgery for scoliosis (crooked spine) was not done in Sri Lanka and that the only option available to the young patients with this deformity was to wear restrictive leather braces which were cumbersome, very uncomfortable and ineffective in halting the steady progression of the deformity, Randunna decided to offer his expertise in this field.

The first corrective surgery for scoliosis was performed by Randunna on the 26th of December 1990 at the Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital on a pretty 18 year old girl from Wellawatta. I had the privilege of providing anaesthesia and the post operative care in the Intensive Care unit at SJGH. From then on he conducted a scoliosis clinic at the hospital, and performed corrective surgery for scoliosis on many patients, each of which could take up to 6 - 8 hours. It is noteworthy that all these were done free of charge when ever he was on vacation from Saudi Arabia. Later he was compelled to operate on these patients as private cases due to lack of operating time during normal working hours.

Since the scoliosis program was initiated Randunna has performed an astounding total of 175 scoliosis surgeries, the last one being done on the 8th of February 2008. I say astounding because except for a brief spell during the Middle Eastern war when he returned to Sri Lanka, all these were done during short spells of one to two weeks per year that he spent on vacation in Sri Lanka.

Though his main interest was on scoliosis surgery, Randunna performed many other types of orthopaedic surgery from little babies needing surgery for club foot, congenital hip dysplasia, to adults needing all types of bone and joint surgery and spine surgery. He used to humorously call himself the "orthopaedic dustbin". He would take on patients who were neglected or mismanaged, who needed sometimes heroic and often long hours of surgery with the added disadvantage of less than ideal results. He would never say no to a patient who had been desperately going from pillar to post seeking solace. He would take up their plight as a challenge to his skill and patience, and rekindle their faith and hope in the medical profession. He offered his services as a volunteer Police Surgeon (a tribute to his late father Henry Corea who was a senior Police Officer), and performed surgery on many members of the police force needing his expertise, entirely free of charge

I can confidently say that today there are several hundreds of patients in Sri Lanka who are walking straighter, walking without pain, walking without a limp, or simply walking, when earlier they were unable to walk at all, due to Randunna's skill.

While there is no doubt regarding Randunna's consummate skill as a surgeon, what is more memorable is his unfailing compassion to his patients. His gentleness and his ability to really listen to his patients made him a life long friend and a hero to all who came under his care. He had knack of being able to put his patients instantly at ease. He would walk into the operating theater, address the patient by his/her first name, and touch them on the shoulder and smile and say "relax wela inna". It always worked like magic

While he was good to his patients, he was unfailingly courteous to medical, nursing and other hospital staff. He is the only surgeon I have heard asking the scrub nurse if she would like to sit down for a little half way through a long surgery. Being a visiting surgeon in the true sense, he had no team of junior doctors to prepare the patient and assist him at surgery. I had to organize the surgical assistants for Randunna. I had no trouble at all because anyone who had assisted him once wanted to do so again and again. Being a dedicated teacher he would take every opportunity to teach his young assistants. He would gently correct them, demonstrating the correct way of holding and using an instrument, tying knots etc.

Being a perfectionist, Randunna would spend hours making fine adjustments in alignment of bones, repeatedly studying the X-rays. I must confess that at times I used to get impatient, particularly if he had been going on for several hours and it was 1 or 2 in the morning. But his conscientiousness was a great boon for the patients who got the benefit of a perfect reduction with minimal complications during recovery

Randunna was a man of varied talents and interests. He had an infectious humour and would keep us entertained during long hours of surgery with amusing anecdotes and jokes. He loved music and dancing. I clearly remember him at a SLMA dance several years ago, with his beautiful wife Nalini in a red kandian sari, making a stunning couple on the dance floor. Their rhythmicity and sheer originality made them the obvious winners at the Baila competition, which incidentally they won three years running.

He had a keen interest in agriculture and would spend a considerable time on his estate each time he came to Sri Lanka. He would talk knowledgably on coconut cultivation, fertilizing crops, secondary crops like papaya and mango. His surgical team was often given delightful surprises of produce from his estate.

He was justly proud of his beautiful identical twin daughters Ranmali and Namali and took delight in their academic achievements. We were kept updated of the swimming prowess of his son Gemunu, who made his mark both here in Sri Lanka and abroad as well as his achievements in the academic field. He provided them with love, support and guidance, and these three well balanced outstanding young people are surely a witness to his good parenting

For his wife, children, and extended family his departure is a heart wrenching experience. May they find comfort in the knowledge that Randunna was much loved and admired and that the blessings and prayers of all those whose quality of life was transformed by his selfless service, are with them always.

Good bye my friend, your memory will always inspire us. May you be safe in the arms of Jesus, till we all meet one day, beyond the sun set


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