Panda's journey: 16km to school every day on foot

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By SUBRAT DAS in Bhubaneshwar
  • Published 24.01.09
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Bhubaneswar, Jan. 24: A son of poor Bharat who walked 16km every day to school today operated on another humble son who has risen to become the country’s guardian.

Dr Ramakanta Panda’s native village, in a remote, nondescript corner of Orissa, savoured its moment of fame as television channels beamed updates of the bypass surgery on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

“He is gold. We are proud of him,” said a schoolteacher who taught Panda when he was a boy.

The state was also celebrating the “success” of another “worthy son” — Pradyot Kumar Rath.

If Panda, vice-chairman of Mumbai’s Asian Heart Institute (AHI), was described tonight by fellow doctors as “the man of the moment”, Rath, another surgeon from the same institute, was part of the 11-member team that operated on Singh.

The focus, however, was on Panda.

The journey from Jajpur district to the operation theatre at AIIMS has been tough for the 53-year-old surgeon, who left home at 6 every morning to be in time for classes that began around 9.

“There were no roads. We had to walk up and down 16km every day. There was no electricity either,” recalled younger brother Radhakanta.

For Panda, they were minor hurdles. He passed school, then cleared his MBBS from SCB Medical College in Cuttack before going on to train at America’s Cleveland Clinic.

“It’s one of the best centres in the world and considered the mother of bypass surgery,” said Ramaraman Sarangi, former head of the cardio-thoracic department at SCB Medical College where Panda, he recalled, was a house surgeon.

Around the time Panda was preparing to be a doctor, Singh had already established his credentials and was chief economic adviser in the Union finance ministry.

But the ride had been tough for him, too.

Born in Gah, West Punjab (now in Pakistan) in September 1932, Singh was one of 10 siblings in a poor family. Some accounts say Singh studied under streetlights during his childhood.

Panda’s mother, Jabakusum Devi, said it was “hard to believe” that her Rama had operated on the Prime Minister.

“He never missed class. He has climbed the ladder of success by hard work and with God’s blessing,” the 76-year-old told The Telegraph over phone.

Brother Radhakanta revealed another side of the surgeon who has done over 1,500 high-risk bypass surgeries and 700 repeat procedures. He said Panda had helped hundreds of economically weak patients by waiving his fees and had also set up the Asian Heart Charitable Trust.

Among Panda’s other plans is a 300-bed hospital and research centre in Bhubaneswar.

Orissa residents were thrilled that one of their own was operating on the Prime Minister. “He is a jewel. He is a saviour,” said Deepak Sarangi.

“We are proud of him,” said state industries minister Biswa Bhusan Harichandan, who had undergone bypass surgery at the AHI four years ago.

In her moment of pride, Panda’s mother recalled the contribution of another man. “Where he is now is because of Satish Chandra Das,” she told PTI. Das, headmaster of Pritipur High School, had inspired her son to dream, she said.