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Dr. Hirji. S. Adenwalla. - A Tribute Message

Date : 27th May 2020

Dear Members,

This is a tribute to HirjiS. Adenwalla. In more ways than one a friend, philosopher and guide, a mentor Idearly yearned for, till I met him. This might therefore appear to be cloudedwith subjectivity and emotion; however keeping all my interactions with himover the last 18 years in mind I shall strive to avoid both.

I first heard of him 30years ago when I had joined as a junior doctor at the District GeneralHospital, Sunderland, UK.  Leo Stassen, myconsultant asked me whether I knew him and I said, no. Mr Stassen was the newlyappointed consultant there and while he was a senior registrar at the nowdefunct Canniesburn Hospital, Glasgow, the previous year, he had spent 6 monthsin India at the Tata memorial hospital, Mumbai and the Jubilee mission hospitalTrichur. He enthusiastically described Adenwalla to me and said it would beworth my while spending time with him. I then realised that here was an unusualsurgeon, tucked away in the hinterland of Kerala who people outside the countryknew more about.

A few years later I wasback in India as a medical student at Manipal. I went to present work that Ihad done on Distraction Osteogenesis with my Orthopaedic professor BenjaminJoseph, at the annual meeting of the Association of Oral and MaxillofacialSurgeons of India (AOMSI) held at Kochi while I was an intern. This was 1999and I heard a remarkable presentation from the same

Dr. Adenwalla, describing his work on Cleft’s.I was aspiring to do a lot of cleft surgeries myself and still remember onesentence from his erudition that day. He said “The Lip is for the boys and theNose is for the Men”. I had occasion to remind him of this years later, and hejust grunted, Hmm. I don’t think it is a coincidence, that a long timeapprentice of Hirji Sir, his successor at the Jubilee Mission hospital, Dr.Narayanan is today one of the finest exponents of  cleft nose repair in this country.

Enter, Smile Train, thegame changer, in the way cleft care was delivered in the whole of thedeveloping world, in the year 2000 and Dr. Adenwalla was naturally in theforefront. Within months of this I got a chance to work as a consultant at the K.S.Hegde Hospital in Mangalore working with Smile Train, as my new boss Prof KrishnaRao. Was heading the first unit for Smile Train in the country. These wereheady times and I met a number of trainees there, who earlier used to be sentto Trichur to spend time with him. I heard a hoard of stories about Dr.Adenwalla and was keen to visit him and learn from him.

                Yet another mile stone in thecleft care saga in India started in the year 2001, when the Indian Society forcleft lip palate and Craniofacial Anomalies (ISCLPCA) was born (incidentally, Ihave the privilege of presiding over this interdisciplinary body today) I onceagain met Dr. Adenwalla at the annual meeting organised by Jyotsna Murthy inChennai and hesitantly tried to touch base with him wanting to spend time withhim at Trichur.

Needless to say I waswelcome at Trichur, because everybody was!!. This now was 2003 and I waschurning out cleft surgeries by the hundreds. My friend Dr. Mustafa and me wentto Trichur and spent a week there. This led to a long standing relationship ofMentor and mentee, which sadly has come to an end this morning.


      He was a unique man. Called himself a medical missionary umpteen numberof times. He was integrity personified. Time and again I have heard him moaningthe crass commercialism in thepractice of medicine today and he really meant it. A meticulous surgeon and amore meticulous researcher when he wanted to , he did not shy away from a gooddebate , a reasonable argument and I am sure, illustrious Surgeons like BrianSommerlad and Karoon Agrawal will agree with this.

He was naturally passionate and was reallythe true champion of the underdog. He reached out to hundreds of trainees fromaround the world -and I see tributes pouring in from so many of them today inthe social media – without any discrimination, and that was his real strength. Hebuilt a team that was not only devoted to him but also dedicated to the causeand I know that he was deeply concerned about their well being, after he wasgone.

Dr. Adenwalla, was atowering figure in more ways than one but without his beloved wife Gulnar hewas useless. Legendary are the stories of how he couldn’t find his own hotelroom or use the gadgets there without her help. He told me that he was adyslexic a number times and I have wondered what if he wasn’t, equally a numberof times. I am sure the graceful Mrs Adenwalla will find the strength to bearthis irreplaceable loss.


Here was a mascot forhumility, grace, dignity, compassion, and maybe, just maybe,

there will be no one like him that will crossour paths again. Has been a privilege knowing you Adenwalla Sir. 


Rest in Peace.

Dr. KrishnamurthyBonanthaya